The Mountain Goats: “Cry for Judas”
When you listen to early Mountain Goats records, it’s a little bit jarring. The “band” is ostensibly one man, the very prolific John Darnielle. He made the recordings using a boombox and cassette tapes with all the hiss and crackle you’d expect. So when you hear the songs, it feels almost invasive, like you’ve stumbled onto something that was just meant for his ears only. But for two decades now, Darnielle has been letting us into his world, and we’re all the better for it.
In 1991 Darnielle set out to put some of the poetry he’d been writing to music. He picked himself up a cheap acoustic guitar and furiously strummed along as he let the words fly. The very first Mountain Goats recordings were mostly cassette-only releases across a wide swath of small indie labels. Darnielle continued his austere recording processes for most of the 90s and early 00s including 2000′s excellent The Coroner’s Gambit and 2002′s All Hail West Texas. In 2002 Darnielle started to move away from his crude boombox recordings towards a more polished, but no less intimate, sound. The first in this new line of records was the masterful 2002 album Tallahassee, a concept record of sorts that weaves a tale about a doomed couple that move to the Florida capital. Over the last ten years, Darnielle has consistently turned in critically-acclaimed albums like The Sunset Tree, Heretic Pride and All Eternals Deck.
October 2 will see the release of the latest Mountain Goats full-length Transcendental Youth. The third song in the tracklist is today’s song of the day. At first listen “Cry for Judas” is a bubbly, up-tempo number full of cheerful horn section stabs and an ambling bass line. But underneath the joyful noise Darnielle–his voice still untrained and endearingly nasal even after all these years–sings about some pretty dark stuff. The chorus goes, “Long black night, morning frost. I’m still here, but all is lost,” and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. He talks about loneliness and name-checks the fallen apostle of the title. Heavy stuff, but the lighthearted music is the sugar-coating that helps his bitter truth go down. That’s the charm of The Mountain Goats: No matter how dark Darnielle gets, you always feel like you’re talking to a friend.