The Mountain Goats are an odd bunch, not in the sense that their music defies description, but rather in the way they seem to shift their template from album to album. Their last album, Beat the Champ, revealed a certain fascination for the sport of wrestling, building an entire album around that unlikely theme. Clearly then, after more than a decade and a half of making themselves a staple in indie circles, they’re not about to change their tack now. Still, Goths does come across as surprisingly accessible, especially in light of their earlier efforts. The ominous opening blast of “Rain In Soho” makes an emphatic impression at the outset, but no sooner do they segue into the tuneful follow-ups “Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back to Leeds,” “Stench of the Unburied” and “Unicorn Tolerance” than the sonic texture shifts to a more agreeable and expressive sound, one with a slight bounce in its tempo no less. A comparison to early Kinks might even be in order.
The remainder of the album hews to that unlikely divide between a sound that maintains a furrowed brown and an approach that hints at tongue planted firmly in cheek. What to make of a song titled “Paid in Cocaine,” “For the Portuguese Goth Metal Bands” or “The Grey Kind and the Silver Flame Attunement” or the latter’s choice lyric which reads, “I’m hardcore, but not that hardcore”? Similarly, a song like “We Do It Different on the West Coast” may be cloaked in ambiguity, but it’s considered pacing makes it intriguing all the same.
Ultimately, it’s best to credit John Darnielle, the band’s ongoing auteur, with having the vision to carry the band forward from one distinctive outing to another. Given the fact that the band’s origins were decidedly rudimentary — most lo-fi home recordings in the form of cassettes and 45s — they’ve clearly come quite a way. With a bit of luck, Goths may even find a foothold in the bigger marketplace. Quirky but compelling, it’s also inspired and original.