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More Great Poetry
on October 2, 2012
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).
TRANSCENDENTAL YOUTH is a good release from the Mountain Goats, but perhaps not their best or most consistent. I prefer this over 2011's ALL ETERNALS DECK, and I think that much of what makes Darnielle a great songwriter is represented here. Fans of the band ought to seek this record out - new listeners could do worse than starting with this album. Essential tracks to sample/download: "Harlem Roulette," "Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1" and "Night Light."