REVIEW: the Mountain Goats – Full Force Galesburg
Full Force Galesburg wasn’t my first introduction to the Mountain Goats, but it was perhaps the album that made the band really click for me and it has grown to hold a special place in my heart. As I usually do with these reviews, I’ll be more highlighting some selections from the album rather than reviewing it in full.
Things kick off with “New Britain” and it’s one of John Darnielle’s most urgent songs which is saying something. The impending War for Independence is the symbolic backdrop for a relationship gone awry. The lyrics are what generally draws me in when listening to a new tMG song. Darnielle is truly a poet and a gifted narrator as anyone who’s read his novels is aware. “New Britain” sets a frantic tone for the rest of the album that wanes and waxes throughout.
“Weekend In Western Illinois” is another track that really grabbed me when I first heard this album. The song starts out by perfectly setting the scene for a couple working to salvage a relationship on the brink of collapse (perhaps the same couple from “New Britain”?):
The land’s opening up like a blanket / and the dandelions spread themselves thickly out along the fields / which are, evidently, endless / and we are hotly in love with one another / we’ve got an unquenchable thirst in our throats / we are, for some reason, all the time, bleeding / and we are friendless.
“US Mill” clocks in at just under 2 1/2 minutes. It’s one of those I often find myself replaying immediately after it’s finished. The track isn’t complex musically speaking, and I still don’t really know what it’s about, but it’s brilliant. Everything that grabs me on Full Force Galesburg comes together with this track.
Claiming a favorite track on this album is difficult. Not only because of the great variability between subject matter and tone, but because each track has something different that makes it great. If you forced me to choose one though, I’d probably settle on “Minnesota.” This track is simply gorgeous. The lyrics here are pure poetry. Darnielle sings of simple things (blood, sweat, oil) and speaks of an uncertainty and perhaps unfamiliarity, with a partner anchoring him. One of the most beautiful lines comes in the last verse:
And then you’re singing in dutch to me / and I recognize the song / it seems so old and so fragile / and I haven’t heard it in so long
The production might turn some people off to Full Force Galesburg. Much of it was recorded with just John and his guitar on a boombox. A few of the tracks have help from Alastair Galbraith on strings and Peter Hughes on backing vocals (who is still with the band on bass and backing vocals), but it’s got a very stripped-down feel and that’s some of what gives it it’s charm. The lo-fi elements on this album (a tape hiss, background ambiance), all lend themselves to the honesty present throughout these tracks. There’s an immediacy to the songs that really engages me and pushes the album forward. There’s no direct narrative, but a common theme. I’ll let this quote from the album do the talking:
There is always an anchor somewhere. All that was left later was the vision of the two of us crossing the parking lot toward the blazing room off the interstate half an hour past Iowa over on the other side of the Mississippi. These songs are about what made that moment either possible or inevitable, depending on how you look at it.