Tuesday, July 14, 2009

2002 : 02-04 Aught Music Roundtable: All Hail West Texas by the Mountain Goats

Roundtable Part One: "The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton"

I've sort of given up on the idea that songs should tell stories. When a song can glean so much potency and emotional force from the use of non-narrative devices such as direct address ("Love, love me do") or declarative expression ("I got soul / and I'm super bad"), one begins to develop a skepticism towards the whole endeavor of burdening songs with narrative elements.

Of course, a tradition doesn't last for five hundred years unless there's good work being done within it, and so it stands to reason that the Aughts might contain their share of good narrative songs. Someone hunting for these need look no further than the Mountain Goats' 2002 album All Hail West Texas, which explicitly states its narrative intentions directly on its album cover: "fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys."

I've never been exactly able to work out which of the fourteen songs were supposed to be about which of the seven people, but why quibble? Especially when the album contains mini-narratives like "The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton," which lasts two minutes and thirty-six seconds and is one of the best stories told this decade, in any medium, period.

Jeremy Bushnell

Roundtable Part Two: "Jenny"

This song feels like summer and desperate freedom and love that makes you feel like your heart is going to burst. Those wonderful but often fleeting moments when everything in your life is exactly right, and you wish for not just a picture, but a hologram to remember it by so you could come back and stand in the feeling later. In short, I love everything about it.

I can't think of a songwriter whose lyrics tell as complete a visual and emotional story as John Darnielle's. It makes me wish that there was a well-written, well-cast, well-shot movie of every song he writes. And "Jenny," with its magic-hour-colored southwestern imagery, would be one of my favorites.

Also, Jenny is totally the name of the bike.

April Walker

Roundtable Part Three: "Source Decay"

I always get a late start
When the sun's going down
And the traffic's filling out
And the glare is hard to take
I wish the West Texas highway was a mobius strip
I could ride it out forever
When I feel my heart break

I understand the idea of getting stuck. I fell that I have spent most of my life fighting to unstick myself. On some level All Hail West Texas is about getting stuck. There is something about getting caught in the tar pit of our own lives. Some people do not realize it until it is way too late.

I am glad that this album did not exist for me to hear in 1996. That was the year of my life which I felt the most stuck and I am not sure it would have helped me. I think hearing it would have made me just get more stuck. When you are stuck like that you tend to poison everything around you, which only makes you more stuck.

The lyric about wishing the highway was a mobius strip strikes me in the middle of my chest. It is an idea that I understand in my bones. When I lived with my parents, I used to just drive around in my car. I did it just so I did not have to be home. I would just drive around for hours and hours. If felt like I was going someplace, even if it was just in a circle.

I could have picked any of five or six songs from All Hail West Texas to write about. There is so much on that album. It is full of stories and emotions that are close to me. I never suggest other people listen to this album, I just respect the other people that love it.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Mountain Goats >> "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton" | "Jenny" | "Source Decay"

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