The Mountain Goats come to Noho

By Tommy Verdone

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

John Darnielle is one of those musicians who works with what he’s got. Better known as the driving force behind the Mountain Goats, Darnielle has released 14 full length albums since 1994, as well as over 20 EPs and cassette tapes since the early 1990s. Very few artists have released such a staggering amount of consistently compelling material in the last 20 years, so fans of folk and rock should feel a need to see Darnielle put on a solo performance next Tuesday April,15 at the Pearl Street Ballroom.

The Mountain Goats started in 1991 when Darnielle began writing and recording songs on the microphone of a Panasonic boom box, giving his songs a gritty, lo-fi tone. For years Darnielle recorded songs on his own and with various collaborators building up his discography with this unique style of music. His songs from this era are often simple, containing nothing more than an acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies, but many of them contain another musician or the use of a midi keyboard.

The Mountain Goats’ lyrics are often jarring and tend to focus on few specific themes. Many of the songs deal with topics ranging from domestic disputes to Mesoamerican mythology, as well as drug use and mental health. Darnielle often speaks from experience in his songs, having come from a history of domestic abuse and addiction.

In 1994, Darnielle released the Mountain Goats’ first official studio album “Zopilote Machine,” from the label Ajax, although he and various collaborators had been issuing cassette releases through various independent labels as early as 1992.

In 2002, the Mountain Goats released “Tallahassee,” Darnielle’s first album with what would be considered to be a full band. Unlike Darnielle’s earlier work, “Tallahasee” marks a clear shift away from the lo-fi sound and towards something with a higher production quality. This album was released on 4AD records and contains what has become the Mountain Goats’ first official single, “See America Right.” With “Tallahassee,” the Mountain Goats quickly became a much more marketable band and seemed to snowball in popularity with their new indie-folk sound.

Three years later in 2005, the band’s ninth studio album, “The Sunset Tree,” was released. With this album, Darnielle focuses on his personal home life during his upbringing and most specifically his abusive stepfather, who passed away in 2004. Many of the tracks on this album are vivid and lyrically jarring, while instilling a somber sense of hope in listeners. This album has been placed at 102 on Pitchfork Media’s “Top 200 Albums of the 2000s.” Most recently, the Mountain Goats have released “Transcendental Youth,” which came out in 2012.

Although his sound has changed drastically over the last 20 or so years, nothing has stopped Darnielle from churning out music. While others in his position may have seen a crummy boom box as a piece of trash, he saw it as an opportunity to create, leading to what can only be described as a prolific discography.

On April 15, The Mountain Goats will be giving a performance at the Pearl Street Ballroom at 8 p.m. Although he will be lacking his studio backing band, Darnielle’s intense and charming stage presence will have no problem gripping the audience with nothing but vocals and a guitar. Tickets can be bought in advance on the Iron Horse website for $20, or $25 at the door.

Tommy Verdone can be reached at [email protected]