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The Sunset Tree

4.8 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Audio CD, April 26, 2005
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The 'Sunset Tree', was recorded with producer John Vanderslice in Northern California towards the end of 2004 - has emerged as the most coherent and richly rewarding album in the Mountain Goats' wildly extensive discography. It's a collection of songs about the house that Darnielle grew up in and the people who lived there - an ensemble cast which includes Darnielle himself, an ex-girlfriend, his mother, stepfather and sister, old friends and old enemies. Four AD. 2005.

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There has always been something about John Darnielle’s lyrics; even when you’re not exactly sure what he’s talking about, it always feels like he’s telling it like it is. Not that metaphor is a major player on The Sunset Tree, the latest album from the Mountain Goats (of which Darnielle is the founder, frontman, and once only member.) Songs like "This Year," "Dance Music," and "Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod?" are painfully honest about his traumatic childhood and abusive stepfather. You might think that an album about child abuse would be hard to listen to, but as always, hearing Darnielle's lyrics is an honor and a privilege. Trying experiences are captured with deceptively simple statements (is there any better expression of determination than "I will make it through this year if it kills me"?) On this CD, Darnielle also remembers revered (yet cocaine-addled) reggae star Dennis Brown. ("It took all the coke in town to bring down Dennis Brown. On the day my lung collapses, we’ll see just how much it takes.") Though the Mountain Goats have apparently done well enough for Darnielle to quit his day job as a nurse, they don't yet have all the fans they deserve. Don't wait to join the fold. --Leah Weathersby
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (April 26, 2005)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: 4ad / Ada
  • ASIN: B0007W22IE
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,071 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Hanna Eastin on May 14, 2005
Format: Audio CD
I bought The Sunset Tree a week ago, sight unseen and note unheard. I listened to my other purchases first, since I was relatively familiar with them and knew what I was getting. Then I peeled off the celophane and popped in The Sunset Tree. No idea what to expect... I thought, upon the first notes of You or Your Memory, 'my god what an awful nasal voice'... then- 'oh.' Then lying on the floor watching the ceiling fan turn thinking, 'this is the most perfect album. There is no other way for this to be.' I am a self-employed artist and listen to music all day, and into the evening, as I work. This cd makes it hard to go to bed at night. It would almost be better to just sit still by the stereo and listen, over and over again, to this quiet steel masterpiece. I can't say enough, but it would be too much. Just buy this, and save yourself an afternoon or two or three, to really listen to it.
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Format: Audio CD
I consider this the best release of the year, which is all the more surprising since I am not particularly fond of the Mountain Goats previous work. John Darnielle has written far and away the best lyrics of any disc this year. The tunes are not always up to the stories, but the images his songs present and the emotions they evoke are phenomenal. John Darnielle does not have a particularly great voice either, in fact some may find it almost grating, but he has the best delivery I have ever heard. "This Year' is the standout song on the disc. Never has a song presented the feeling of being a disillusioned teen so well. The chorus "I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me." will resound in your ears. It is a song that the worst of us singers want to scream along with as it blasts out of our car radios. "locking eyes, holding hands twin high maintenance machines." I love that line. "The scene ends badly as you might imagine in a cavalcade of anger and fear." Is followed by "There will be feasting and dancing in Jeruselum next year." He Juxtaposes images of dread with hope. It's brilliant stuff. Some of his images are admittedly difficult to grasp. But there is hope amidst despair throughout this brilliant tale. Old fans may find this disc overproduced, but i heartily disagree. Every string and keyboard is gorgeous. Check out the strings on "Dilaudid". They evoke the feeling of a deep despair and self destruction like a simpler production could never achieve. Enough said. If you have not yet heard this disc buy it now.
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Format: Audio CD
Mountain Goats is basically one man, John Darnielle, a superb lyricist and a singer whose voice sounds both sandpapery and tentative. He sings here of life with an abusive stepfather, a subject not exactly made for easy listening, but The Sunset Tree, a humane and sympathetic freeing from a sad past, is not bitter, achieves strength and -- particularly in Song for Dennis Brown -- addresses some universal and inescapable experiences.

This might sound like dreary medicine to take, but instead it's good and almost pleasant listening. There is a cheerful, pop edge to some of the music, most notably in Dance Music and This Year. A greater reason, though, is Darnielle's own storytelling -- his stepfather sounds like a monster, but he is not denied his own humanity ("you are sleeping off your demons") and Darnielle even manages -- on hearing of the man's death -- to recall a fragile good memory, going together in an early morning years previously to watch horses work out. It helps too that in this history Darnielle recogizes his own teenaged self as not exactly perfect, describing himself and a girlfriend as "twin high-maintenance machines."

In its unflinching look at and ultimate release from past pain, The Sunset Tree was one of the best albums of 2005. It's ambitious, mature, realized, and -- not least -- tuneful. Buy it.
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Format: Audio CD
At a live show John Darnielle (who, despite his objections to such statements, IS the Mountain Goats) once told a story about being in an interview in Germany where he was trying to say something about one of his songs was questioned by the interviewer who said "Yes, well maybe, but you are famous liar!"

This idea rises from the fact that through the dozen or so Mountain Goats records that have proceeded Sunset Tree John Darnielle has created an entire emotional universe populated with fictional characters, fictional travels and historicaly based fictional stories all injected with heavy doses of genuine and real emotion.

So how excited was I when i heard that the new MG album was going to be based not off fictional characters but off of Darnielle's own life growing up in Southern california with an abusive step father.

I did wonder if he would be able to maintain the kind of emotional subjectivity that made his early songs so enjoyable. Confesionalist whining has its place and in my mind it is not in a mountain goats song.

How pleased was I when i finally got my hot little hands on this album and found that John Darnielle was able to treat his own dark moments with the kind of emotional honesty and humor that made albums like "All Hail west Texas" and "Tallahassee" the great albums they were.

As mentioned in the other review this is the third album where John has utilized multipl instruments, a big departure from his original one-dude-with-one-guitar set up. Even though it would be impossible to call this new incarnation low-fi there is something very elemental about it that holds true to the low fi ideal of shunning over production. For example the song "Dilaudid" consists of only Darnielle's nasal lyrics and a string section.
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