Monday, October 8, 2012

Album Review: The Mountain Goats' Transcendental Youth

I guess The Mountain Goats weren't content with releasing just an album just last year; they had enough material for two, this year's Transcendental Youth. The latest effort sees John Darnielle and the gang a little more comfortable with their characters, not to mention the happier sound of the tunes -- well, I guess happy for The Mountain Goats. There are obviously moments of losing your cool - "Lakeside View Apartment Suite" feels almost like a Jack's Mannequin song, up until the protagonist pukes in the sink. But what Transcendental Youth does for the Mountain Goats' discography is add another dimension to its already padded reputation -- I don't see anyone trying to rip off their sound, but I can definitely see Darnielle's songwriting being cited influential in many years to come.

"Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1" kicks off the record, an ode to Amy Winehouse and any other youthful sprites living for the moment. "Just stay alive" is the chorus, endearingly honest and true. It's a shame Winehouse could never collaborate with The Mountain Goats, as I think that would produce a successful, if not completely strange, result; I understand that would be almost as random as the tribute itself, but apparently Darnielle had a message for the late songstress strong enough to produce a song. Transcendental Youth continues to build on the success of the opening track, ending with the beautiful eponymous closing track.

The Mountain Goats expand more on the full band they have established in recent releases by adding a horn section to most of the songs. "Cry for Judas" sounds a bit like a Beirut song with the horn section taking charge throughout most of the track. And although the tracks here are have a lot more pep than what was featured on All Eternals Deck, the lyrics still point toward the helplessness you can expect from the band.

What can be extrapolated from Transcendental Youth is The Mountain Goats extend their winning streak long enough to be inspired by contemporary artists, while still maintaining their structure and sound. There's no "See America Right" or "This Year" on the record, but once all the melodies and lyrics sink in, you won't feel like you wasted your time listening. I would be happy with releases like All Eternals Deck and Transcendental Youth every year, if they are as stable as The Mountain Goats' releases continue to be. I don't see this record as a reinvention or anything that will blow people away, though it's a solid exercise for a band that is ever-shifting laterally, comfortable and confidant with what they create.

Final Grade: B

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