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Transcendental Youth

October 2, 2012 | Format: MP3

$9.49
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Format: Audio CD
It's hard to predict what exactly The Mountain Goats will release with each upcoming record. Singer/songwriter John Darnielle might put out an elaborately themed concept-album - he may release a collection of character sketches. Along this continuum, TRANSCENDENTAL YOUTH falls in the latter; the record feels like a healthy smattering of good emotions and smart ideas. The lyrics of this record glance across Judas Iscariot, the Amy Winehouses of the world, rhythm-and-blues singer Frankie Lymon, Satan, characters from Scarface, and the Amish. If this all sounds cerebral, never fear: Darnielle is as sincere as songwriters get.

TRANSCENDENTAL YOUTH starts with "Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1," and ode to living and being adventurous. It's surprisingly upbeat and optimistic - Darnielle's earnest delivery sells the track. Most of the album after this opening cut is a bit more downtrodden and gloomy, not that that's necessarily bad. One of the album's highlights, Harlem Roulette, centers on the refrain "the loneliest people in the whole wide world are the ones you're never going to see again." Darnielle's lyrics border between the universal and the intimate - some of the details he writes off feel so personal that they make the more universal statements (like the previous refrain) feel all the more vital.

One of the elements that separate this record from the rest of The Mountain Goats' discography is the inclusion of the horn section. Jazz composer Matthew E. White lends his talents on TRANSCENDENTAL YOUTH, bringing in trumpets and other assorted brass to add a little bit of flair to the record. It doesn't dominate the album, but it does add a nice texture to some tracks (the title track in particular).
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Format: MP3 Music Verified Purchase
The previous album, All Eternals Deck, didn't quite succeed in reaching me, though I listen to a couple of the songs regularly. I worried (like you do) that John was going to go somewhere I couldn't follow with his work, and I was going to lose one of the few people currently working who write things that resonate with my soul.

But Transcendental Youth was exactly what I needed.

The honesty and emotion in his writing and singing is a mix of healing balm and concentrated sunlight through a magnifying glass. Perhaps it's best described as something that lances old wounds and lets the poison drain. It's what I love him for: everything he tears open, he puts back together a little better than it was before, and after I've worn through an album, maybe I'm a little more sane.

One thing that particularly caught me was the moment in Night Light when he sings, "Jenny calls from Montana ... Probably never see her again in this life, I guess." We met Jenny on All Hail West Texas, when they ride into the sunset, triumphant for the moment. He hopes she's heading east; he leaves the lights on for her, counting his few scant hopes. I'm left remembering a time when I was fifteen, staring out my window like I could force the love of my life materialise in my driveway, if I believed hard enough.

-- the altogether too emotional spouse of the owner of this account.
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Format: MP3 Music Verified Purchase
Mountain Goats fans:
As a recent Mountain Goats fan myself, I can tell you that this album is pretty much in the vain of the more recent Mountain Goats album All Eternals Deck. I can also say that there's not quite the end-to-end greatness of Tallahassee, but there doesn't seem to be quite so much sorrow and sadness of that album either (the sorrow is still there, it's just not as IN YOUR FACE as Tallahassee). The vocals are still solidly on point and pretty much the entire album just "fits" the Mountain Goats feel (at least, post-self-recorded tape era). It's just about a must-buy, especially if you can get some Amazon mp3 credit to put toward it.

non-Mountain Goats fans:
As a recent Mountain Goats fan myself, I can tell you that this album is pretty much a buy for most people. John Darnielle is an excellent singer-songwriter and his vocals, though they can take some getting used to, are excellent and catchy. Transcendental Youth doesn't seem to have the same sadness prevalent in much of the Mountain Goats early work and that can almost be a better introduction for most people (All Eternals Deck is a good intro too). I would argue that Tallahassee is probably my favorite Mountain Goats album, but it is full of deceptively happy sounding songs with terribly depressing lyrics. Transcendental Youth is definitely a good starting point for new Mountain Goats fans, but just know that it's an addiction :)
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Format: MP3 Music
By any other musical metric this is a fantastic album. By the Mountain Goats' lofty standards, however, I'd say it's merely a great one. If you're a tMG fan, particularly of their newer releases, you will enjoy this album, and should by all means buy it! For me it's not quite as good as All Eternals Deck or Heretic Pride and doesn't touch hi-fi standards Tallahassee and The Sunset Tree, but it edges out Get Lonely and Life of the World to Come.

Thematically, this album feels like a more-optimistic We Shall All Be Healed, with its themes of mental illness and substance abuse paralleling those found in the exploration of drug-abuse on WSABH. However, this album lacks some of the emotional fidelity present in spades on that and other hi-fi tMG albums, simply by dint of the slightness of some of its lyrics. One of the primary reasons this band's music resonates for many is John Darnielle's uncanny ability to spin poetic lyrics that powerfully convey the situations and mindsets of himself and the other characters about which he sings. Meaningful lyrics are certainly still present on this album, but their moments of greatness are fewer and less spellbinding than on other recent releases. Instead, this album's musical garnishes step up to help convey the desired tone, as with the drops on Lakeside View or the horns on, well, all the tracks the horns are on. John has proven his ability to strike a great balance between musical flourish and profound lyrics (as in "Age of Kings" from AED, wherein harrowing strings amplify the despair of the narrator, who describes losing a cherished relationship), and this album strays just a bit too much to one side for my taste.
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