• John Finnegan

How The Mountain Goats Stay Fresh after 25 Years

The Mountain Goats

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Think of a musician or band that has been around for a long length of time. How much of their recent music feels like it's evolved or changed? Chances are it may have lost its sense of individuality, or might feel like a rehash of their older, more hallowed works. However, there’s one group that I feel has managed to avoid the plights that come with aging artistry. The Mountain Goats, a folk punk band founded in 1991 based out of North Carolina, are known for two things: sad, emotionally devastating lyrics and a style that evolves and changes with every single new release that put out.

To talk about The Mountain Goats is to talk about their most famous and only constant member, John Darnielle. In fact, The Mountain Goats was originally just Darnielle, the only reason he choose to release his work under the name was to avoid the attention of being a singular artist. Since then, people have joined and left the group, but Darnielle remains as head lyricist and singer of the group, and this is reflected in what they release. If you ask someone where to start or a recommendation from their discography, chances are, despite having over 25 years of work to draw from, they’ll be at a loss, simply due to the fact that everything they’ve put out is so wildly different that it's hard to pick something that encapsulates it. 1994’s Zopilote Machine is a lo-fi album about heartbreak and the demise of relationships, while 2015’s Beat the Champ is about professional wrestling and the stories it creates. Each album focuses on some sort of subject or concept that ties the songs together, but two albums almost never sound the same. What you end up with is a group that has an album or song for almost every type of sadness that you might encounter. Did you just lose someone that meant the world to you? Try "Get Lonely." Are you dealing with issues with family that leave you confused about how to feel? "The Sunset Tree" is the perfect remedy.

Fans of The Mountain Goats will often describe the music as “healing” or “therapeutic,” but listening to the lyrics, you wouldn’t think that at first. Most of the songs can come across as depressing or nihilistic, painting a picture of the worst pits of despair or misfortune a person might found themself in. But after some time listening, you can find some solace in them. You start to find the experiences described in the music intensely relatable, and there’s something helpful about having your own issues given form or shape through music. And every once and awhile, there’s those small nuggets of hope, like "White Cedar" or "Never Quite Free," that remind you, in the middle of all of this, that this trauma is not eternal, it has an end. The core theme of the group ends up being one of perseverance, and finding hope and value even if it's completely stupid or irrational to. The thesis being that the world is unforgiving, uncaring, and full of beauty despite all of that.

I have a piece of paper in my wallet; placed right next to my driver’s license. I try to look at it at least once each day, as a reminder. It's a lyric, a short one, from "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton." It’s one of the most famous lyrics in the Mountain Goats fandom, tattooed on countless fans and in dozens of yearbooks as a senior quote. Despite it being almost cliché at this point, it's become a rallying cry for listeners. I think it sums up the group fairly succinctly.

If you punish a person, for dreaming their dream

Don’t expect them to thank or forgive you

The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton

Will in time, both outpace and outlive you

If you want to hear something more recent, check out a more recent track called "Done Bleeding."

John Finnegan is 17 and lives in Modesto, California. He’s written since his early years and plans to pursue a Doctoral Degree of English Literature. You can find him on Instagram at @johnwfinnegan