If pure desperation and crippling anxiety about modern life count, then the Mountain Goats, vehicle of aggro indie-folk icon John Darnielle, have always had an inclination for theme records. The execution has certainly mellowed since the days when he was sneering about tweakers into a handheld recorder, even if the Goats’ 2005 release The Sunset Tree (a musical sketch of an abusive stepfather) was hardly adult contemporary. Dog-eared motifs of lost love dominate his latest, Get Lonely, making the most recuperative, reflective stuff in the band’s catalog. Here, instead of spitting his cerebral one-liners with a snarl, they’re half whispered. When he admits to leaving “a trail of burned things in my wake,” the sober delivery suggests we’ve missed the bonfire and arrived on scene to find only ash and embers. And the record’s most immediate songs, like “In Hidden Places” and “Woke Up New,” prove that Darnielle’s lyricism is devastating through detail, not decibels. On “Wild Sage,” he sings of the moment after suffering a fall on the sidewalk: “And then I think I hear angels in my ears/Like marbles being thrown against a mirror.” In the case of Get Lonely, the sound is much more serene, if no less shattering.
The Mountain Goats play Bowery Ballroom September 30 and October 1.