The Mountain Goats are a band I should hold dear. Cultish and critically acclaimed, they’re praised for their literacy and humour, count Eddie Argos and Jeffrey Lewis among their pals, and have songs on their forthcoming album about slasher movies, lake monsters and Prince Far I. "John Darnielle’s frank and frequently devastating lyrics will help you embrace the fragile frost and loneliness of the city streets", said the programme for the Pineapple Folk Yuletide Gathering at the Union Chapel last month. Sounds good, I thought, give me lots of that.
In fact it felt like arriving late to a party at which everyone else was already drunk. Sandwiched between fantastically raw sets from Alasdair Roberts and Micah P Hinson – inexplicably played to half-empty pews – the Californian duo got standing ovations for a set of smug,
self-absorbed, comically overwritten whiner-rock that sounded like Weezer on a rate of a dollar per simile or They Might Be Giants spending too much time with the cat. What was I not getting? What part of me was missing? For a band who trade on their outsider status, it was a strangely alienating experience.
So I’ve isolated the triggers (including Darnielle’s honking whine of a voice, phony geek-chic haircut and general resemblance to PG Wodehouse’s gawkish newt fancier Gussie Fink-Nottle) and concluded that it all boils down to his habit of emphasising every pretentious couplet with a little jab of his hand – as if to drive home the piercing truth of lines like, "The most remarkable thing about you standing in the doorway is that it’s you and that you’re standing in the doorway". Without that unmistakably self-important gesture, it could all be a great joke, a send-up of the sort of glib, bombastic navel-gazing that kept ‘Dawson’s Creek’ in business.
The answer, I reckon, lies in the video for ‘This Year’, in which Darnielle is kidnapped and forced to perform under duress. Perhaps, with the singer’s hands bound behind his back, I would stand some sort of a chance of enjoying The Mountain Goats. Then again, perhaps we could just stop at the kidnap.