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Ghosts, Clouds and Nameless Things

 

The Mountain Goats: Get Lonely

4AD, 2006

Rating: 4.0

 

Posted: August 19, 2006

By Laurence Station

On Get Lonely, John Darnielle is confident enough in his songwriting abilities that he doesn’t have to trot out literary or cultural references to add additional heft to his intimately couched insights into the human condition. Unlike last year’s The Sunset Tree, which dealt with Darnielle’s conflicted feelings regarding his recently deceased stepfather, Get Lonely doesn’t need forced references to Raskolnikov or Kurt Cobain to be effective. Though not as musically forceful or possessing as many memorable hooks as Sunset Tree, Get Lonely rates high in the Mountain Goats catalog primarily for its disciplined focus, a peculiarly masochistic celebration of heartbreak that downplays showy arrangements in favor of hushed, haunted lyrical sketches.

Opening with “Wild Sage” and closing with the floral anatomy-referencing “In Corolla,” Get Lonely is as tightly constructed a song cycle as the structurally conscious Darnielle has yet created. Throughout, the central character wanders streets, lies in abandoned lots, has nightmares and aimlessly rides buses. There’s a twilit, zombified drift to this acutely examined life, wherein the main character’s lover has left their house and, in a sense, left a gaping hole in the heartbroken protagonist’s existence. “Half Dead” is ostensibly about cleaning house while it rains outside, but focuses its gaze on a box of tossed-out stuff and features a nicely repetitive guitar refrain, like a nagging memory of better times that won’t go away. The title track explores the classic lonely-in-a-crowd scenario as the main character gets dressed up and tries to blend in, but can’t overcome a crushing sense of isolation and abandonment. The string-laden “Moon Over Goldsboro” mentions spending the entire night “in the company of ghosts.”

The strongest element to Get Lonely -- and one regrettably left under-explored -- is the social pressure felt by someone no longer attached, an outcast in a suburban environment of block parties, children and lots of gossip. Who wants to be the only single person in such a setting? Two songs -- “New Monster Avenue,” in which the apocalyptic observation “Sometimes before the sun comes up / The earth is going to crack” is nicely reinforced by the more immediate reality of “All the neighbors come out to their front porches, waving torches,” and “If You See Light,” in which villagers come to the only-lonely’s door, threatening to break it down -- nicely encapsulate the feeling of being the oddball in a prescribed societal order, like some emotionally crippled Frankenstein’s monster fearfully “waiting for the front door to splinter.”

Plaintive guitar, emotive piano keys and aching strings effectively back Darnielle’s thematic conceits. “Song for Lonely Giants” is the lone dud, a too-abstract detour lacking the wonderfully incisive and concrete details of the surrounding tracks.

Isolated misstep aside, Get Lonely reveals an artist in full command of his craft, bringing a keen-eyed sensibility to those awkward and painful aspects of a breakup, but also noting, as on “Woke Up New,” the near-ecstatic sense of possibilities such a sea change creates. For some, every day brings the hope of a second chance, a Mulligan in the game of life and love.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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