By Nathan Thomas
George Washington High School
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's not uncommon for a songwriter to go soft once he or she experiences parenthood. Thankfully John Darnielle, lead singer and main lyricist for folk rockers The Mountain Goats, did not do this. If anything, he went darker.
With "Transcendental Youth," the band's 14th album, Darnielle explores outcasts, the mentally ill and the heroin overdose of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" singer Frankie Lymon. The album was released Oct. 2 on Merge Records.
Originally, the Mountain Goats was just Darnielle recording songs on a Panasonic boombox. This ended in 2002 when he began recording more polished studio albums with Peter Hughes on bass. In 2007, Jon Wurster of Superchunk joined and began to play drums, creating a rhythm section to be reckoned with. This adds the driving force behind album tracks like "Harlem Roulette," "Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1" and "The Diaz Brothers."
The song "Counterfeit Florida Plates" tells the story of someone with paranoid schizophrenia. "In Memory of Satan" is from the perspective of a recluse who calls friends for favors so he doesn't have to leave the house.
"Cry for Judas," might be the happiest-sounding song ever written about being hopeless. It opens with the lines "Some things you do just to see/How bad they'll make you feel" and leads to the heartbreaking "But we are the ones who don't slow down at all/And there's nobody there to catch us when we fall."
The closing track of the album is also the title track. It starts with a horn section wailing before settling into a song about a couple trying to move forward even though they're on a downward spiral and eventually settling into ways to cope with mental illness.
My personal favorite, though, is "Harlem Roulette," a song that describes the night Frankie Lymon overdosed in 1968. It ends with Darnielle singing -- almost to the brink of shouting -- the lines "The loneliest people in the whole wide world are the ones you're never going to see again."
The opening lines of the album are "Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive." Although listening to "Transcendental Youth" is not a stupid thing, it will definitely make you feel alive as you turn the volume up and let the best album of the year sink into your body.
The Mountain Goats will appear on "Mountain Stage" in Huntington with Dr. Dog, Red Wanting Blue and Spirit Family Reunion on Nov. 4.