The Mountain Goats: In League With Dragons (Merge) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Mountain Goats

In League With Dragons


May 14, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Following 2017’s rightly lauded Goths, John Darnielle and his band The Mountain Goats return with a new LP, produced by the always magnificent Owen Pallett, and, to some unknown extent, telling the tale of a seaside community ruled over by a kindly wizard.

For an artist who’s created records around the world of professional wrestling, The Bible, and a deck of tarot cards, this shouldn’t be too much of a challengeDarnielle has always had a gift of incisive insight that he appears to be able to overlay and make relatable, regardless of subject matter. Everything The Mountain Goats make sounds wonderfully like an overheard diary entry, dragons be damned.

This is not to say that In League With Dragons is a great Mountain Goats record, thoughit begins meditatively with a trio of soft-shoed numbers that hold more interest lyrically than melodically or instrumentally; the latter of these, “Passaic 1975,” offering kind-hearted sentiments like “Tell the world I want everyone to get high” and the looming “Sometimes I wake up coughing up blood/Tonight Indianapolis, tomorrow the flood.”

It’s generally a low-key record, Darnielle’s trademark cadence layered over gentle, lulling tones including gorgeous piano lines (“Possum By Night,” which contains the delightful refrain “Grow fat and grow old, go blind and be content”), western acoustic strum (the title track, replete with breathy backing vocals and pedal steel solo), and church organ (the rather epic chant of “Going Invisible 2”).

“Looking up at the one man in this room who’s handled more cocaine than me,” Darnielle observes on the amusing “Waylon Jennings Live!”a down-home country tune that combines his self-effacing wit with wearied travelogue to magnetic effect.

“Cadaver Sniffing Dog” is the most anxious-sounding and classically Mountain Goats-y thing here with its whispered, memorably melancholy chorus and killer couplets like “Veterans on their hands and knees/Nobody’s ready for days like these.”

The record closes strong with the pairing of the lengthy, lachrymose “An Antidote For Strychnine” and the persistent shuffle of fantastic finale “Sicilian Crest,” which recalls a thousand late ‘70s TV theme tunes in the most evocative and admirable way possible.

Darnielle has an undeniable knack for applying his relatively strict, well-worn song crafting structures to any number of topics, yet it always comes down to the profoundly personalwhether dragons, wrestlers or wizards appear to be the subject at handreally it’s always about resilience, sadness, stoicism, and kindness, as he notes on the final track “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst/We wait like stock-piled landmines, ready to burst.”

The pairing of the band and Pallett is a positive one for the most part and In League With Dragons is minor-key business as usual for prolific, imperfect songsmith Darnielle. (

Author rating: 7/10

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