The 4AD label has quite a tradition. Erstwhile home to indie-rock pioneers the Pixies and Throwing Muses, it also boasts artists such as Mojave 3 on the gentler side. Another such is the Mountain Goats. Basically the brainchild of singer-songwriter John Darnielle, the Mountain Goats have been together since the early '90s, and this is perhaps the most successful and well-known of their many albums.
2002's Tallahassee is easily described as lo-fi; the amps only get turned up on 'See America Right' and many of the songs feature only Darnielle's acoustic guitar and hushed vocals. He manages to sound convincing in a variety of moods, from the reflective 'Have to Explode' to the more cheerful 'Idylls of the King', which also shows he can write a good melody. All of this is great, but something you can get elsewhere.
The reason you should get this album is quite simple: the lyrics. At times heartfelt, at others heart-warming, at others just plain random ("Our love is like the border between Greece and Albania" Darnielle declares on 'International Small Arms Traffic Blues') they are always thought-provoking and hold the attention with ease. At times Darnielle tries to squeeze too many words in, but where normally this can seem awkward, here it's clear it's because that's the best way to get the message across. And it works.
If that's not convinced you, then listen to the Delgados. Alun and Paul help out on 'Oceanographer's Choice' which clearly shows they approve of Darnielle's acerbic songwriting. So will you.
Hopes and Fears, perhaps the most anticipated long player of recent times. Much talked about in the music press, and on the back of a nationwide tour, the Brighton three piece unleash a what could have possibly become over hyped debut on the general public at last. And over hyped it certainly is not. A more comforting recording I have not heard in a long time. Obvious, and somewhat lazy comparisons have been made in most previous press the band have had, primarily to Coldplay, The Smiths, R.E.M. and the like. And it isn't just because the line up of vocals, piano, and drums leads to a piano driven sound. This could easily be a 'Strangeways, Here We Come', it could be 'A Rush of Blood to the Head', and indeed it could eclipse 'Automatic For The People'. The writing credits could easily include Morrissey, Marr, Mills, Stipe, and Martin - it really is that good.
Tom Chaplins hope ridden, pained vocals, evangelistic, elegiac, euphoric, yet painting a picture of being destitute, disillusioned and dishevelled are countered to perfection by Tim Rice-Oxleys passionately honest simplicity at the piano. Think of the keyboard greats, think Elton John, think Liberace, think Richard Clayderman. They may have unrivalled technical ability, but they pale into insignificance here, they simply don't have the devotion to emotion that we find herein.
Opening with recent single 'Somewhere Only We Know' the listener is drawn in, unwilling and unable to move away, it's compelling. Followed immediately by 'Bend and Break', a song that feels like walking on thin ice, terrified, edgy verses only made bearable when you are enveloped in the warm, heady presence of the powerful and passionate chorus.
'We Might As Well Be Strangers' is a tension and tear filled minor key ballad that comes at the end of the line. When you can't face anymore, when the cards are stacked against you. It sounds uncomfortably familiar. Leading directly into 'Your Eyes Open', a dark, sinister, driven, pulsating beast that drags you in, pins you to the ground and holds you there. It might sound as I'm being dramatic, but I am not. Listen, but listen at your own risk. It really is so brutally honest that it'll scare you.
The most fragile moment is surely 'She Has No Time'; I dare you not to be moved by the beauty of this song. Only those with a heart of stone would argue.
Approaching the end of this record I began to feel uneasy. I really did not want it to end, the only thing I could do was to repeat the performance over again. And then again. And again.
If this is record is a testament to isolation and it's ensuing desperation then the next is surely to be a tale of fighting off fawners, admirers, hangers-on, paramours and stalkers. Simply because if Keane do not become flavour of the month, nay year, nay decade with this record then I'll hang up my critical boots.