Concept albums and The Mountain Goats go hand in hand. ‘All Hail West Texas’ was about residents in Texas, 2015’s ‘Beat The Champ’ was about professional wrestling, ‘Goths’ was about teenagers listening to The Cure, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
In true Mountain Goats fashion ‘In League With Dragons’ is, and isn’t, a concept album. The story goes that when main Mountain Goat John Darnielle decided to use Owen Pallett as a producer he sent him a selection of songs to see if he was interested. These songs were loosely based on Dungeons and Dragons, but there were some other songs included too.
When Pallett agreed and said the songs he thought should make up the album he had selected some that weren’t about D&D. After listening to the first track ‘Done Bleeding’ you realise immediately that this is nothing like the previous album ‘Goths’.
The dark and brooding synths have been replaced with warming guitars and melodic drumming. This more folkie sound suits the songs, given the subject matter of analogue games. After some tight playing Darnielle welcomes us to the album with the line “Recite the songs that kept me whole, On the day I hand over command control, Try to let them all flow in to this one...”
Is this line a reference to giving control to dice to decide his fate during a D&D campaign, or is he talking about how on ‘In League With Dragons’ Darnielle only sings and plays guitar on a couple of numbers, the rest is handled by the band and musicians that Pallet assembled? Like the best Mountain Goats songs, Darnielle gives no answers and lets you make that ultimate decision.
As with all Mountain Goats albums, Darnielle peppers them with humour and tongue cheek references. The best one on ‘In League with Dragons’ happens during ‘Doc Gooden’. “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years, Maximum respect to all the warriors, Who choose to fall down on their spears”. Is this a reference to Darnielle hiding in plain sight since ‘Goths’ by appearing on the podcast ‘I Only Listen To The Mountain Goats’, or is this another veiled D&D reference?
‘In League With Dragons’ is more groove based than recent Mountain Goats albums, and this is a good thing. Along with the usual Mountain Goats, Pallett has assembled a group of musicians who sound like they’re having a blast just playing these songs. The best part of any song is when the band gets locked into that groove.
Props should be given to drummer Jon Wurster, as he is the core to every song, next to Darnielle’s voice of course, providing tight drumming that allows the players to flex their musical muscles and let rip. This is evident on the final third of ‘Younger’ is just glorious and should go on forever.
The most impressive thing about ‘In League With Dragons’ is that it’s the 17th Mountain Goats album, and Darnielle shows no signs of running on empty. This is an album that should excite existing fans of the band, as Darnielle has delivered another selection of songs that tap into the human condition as only he can. It also works well as a gateway for new fans as the songs are catchy, the music is well balanced and when the band hit that sweet groove its glorious.
After playing this album you will only be listening to the Mountain Goats for the immediate future.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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