In a world filled with disposable, soulless music and overly slick production, the Mountain Goats are a refreshing antidote. This is about as simple and honest as it gets. John Darnielle, a.k.a. the Mountain Goats, cranks out songs straight from the heart and captures them on a Panasonic boom box cassette recorder. The recording is so lo-fi that, at times, you can hear the gears of the tape machine grinding along in the background; the sound merely adds to the "as is" immediacy and accessibility of the material.
Critically acclaimed, yet deeply underground, the Mountain Goats have 30 releases to their credit and appear on about as many compilations. Darnielle began his music career in 1991 by putting out cassette-only releases for the Shrimper label, and quickly developed a cult following.
According to the album cover, the latest Mountain Goats release, All Hail West Texas, is "fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked boys facility." The songs feature Darnielle's slightly nasal voice cramming words together in rapid literary succession, accompanied by his frantic strumming on acoustic guitar. Darnielle's sagas are set against the expansive background of west Texas and vacillate between the amusing and heart-rending.
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While his songs about "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton" and a high school acid dealer ("Fall of the Star High School Running Back") are entertaining, they aren't as inspiring as his more pensive tracks. Darnielle is definitely at his best when he gets serious, singing about the general human condition ("Riches and Wonders"), a relationship that can't be saved by vacations ("The Mess Inside"), or a journey across the Southwest after spending three nights in jail ("Jeff Davis County Blues"). Fourteen back-to-back songs of Darnielle's incessant bleating and strumming can make the first few listens of All Hail West Texas a bit challenging, but there is something about the songs that will keep you coming back.