November 7, 2002

Test Spin: The Mountain Goats

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4:46 p.m. Saturday: It’s snowing for the first time, disappointment all around. Strange how year after year, the first time it falls feels like something new. It’s the same with John Darnielle, who calls himself the Mountain Goats. But this time, this year, it seems too perfect(ed), too captured … like I’m looking out the window into a shaken snowglobe. Never melting, never penetrating. John used to sing into what sounded like an answering machine, like he was leaving me a message — something personal and intimate.

Autumn is beginning to lose out to winter without a fight. Perhaps it has. It’s all sounding whitewashed. John’s voice isn’t cracking; he’s catching every chord. It sounds too right.

9:30 a.m. Sunday: This fall didn’t drop enough leaves. And now it’s gone. Yesterday’s snow is also gone, and even that left nothing behind. No lingering mush. No grit. John is still saying things I understand; the nasal still makes me smile now and then. But so much is polished away. The studio stole John’s originality. It’s like all the time spent, all the effort, took away all sense of spontaneity.

The snow didn’t mix with any dirt this time. There’s no room for contrast. No songs about Golden Boy Peanuts.

12 p.m. Sunday: I put in Ghana, skip to “Going to Port Washington,” and sing along. The snow begins to fall again.

Archived article by Ben Kupstas