by carl wilson

Monday Morning (er, Mid-Afternoon) Coming Down


Gig alert: In my colleague Mark Miller's well-balanced review of Quinsin Nachoff's gig in this morning's Globe, he notes that Ernst Reijseger, the Dutch cellist who played with Nachoff on Sat. night, has a solo gig tonight, presented by Rough Idea at New Works Studio, 319 Spadina Ave. (upstairs). Doors are at 7:30 pm. (Rough Idea, aka Sir Ron Gaskin, also presents the VTO5 festival May 15-21.)

WaPo on Patsy Cline's slutty youth. (I'm using "slutty" as a term of approbation here, btw. As in, if Kathleen Hanna can collaborate with Paris Hilton...)

Bright Eyes on Leno tonight, reportedly singing When the President Talks to God. Think they'll let him sing the final words, "bullshit" and all? Let's spend some time together....

Spent some quality time with The Mountain Goats' The Sunset Tree on train rides this weekend. It has incredible moments (This Year, Song for Dennis Brown, the wrenching Pale Green Things... a helluva lot of them in fact) but I am still struggling with the explicitness of the subject matter - childhood abuse, specifically during adolescence, a story John Darnielle's made clear is autobiographical. The facticity of it isn't so crucial, but what made We Shall All Be Healed one of the best TMG discs ever for me was that it was very powerful on its given subject (late-adolescent drug abuse; in a sense this album feels like the prequel to WSABH; effects tracing back to causes) but at the same time it was freely tangential and ambiguous in its imagery and narrative stages; it struck with a direct confidence but still with the feeling of the best earlier TMGs songs of being hit hard in the head by a stone but never knowing what angle or direction it was coming from. On Sunset Tree, I generally know where the stone is coming from and its velocity - and perhaps too often I hear it coming in advance. I wonder if Darnielle wanted to render with a greater transparency in order to make it more confrontational, and more cathartic, and perhaps more a point of identification for those who are or have been in abusive situations? (He dedicates the record both to his late stepfather - a very moving gesture in itself - but also to "any young men and women anywhere who live with people who abuse them, with the following good news: you are going to make it out of there alive; you will live to tell your story; never lose hope.") If that is the intention, point taken, but is it doing social work at the expense of artfulness? These are just listening notes: There are layers of complexity, too, and I haven't resolved the question yet for myself; many people, including Kelefa Sanneh, have argued it's his best record. One thing's sure, it has the best arrangements since Darnielle started doing anything you could call "arrangements," with Erik Friedlander's cello unsurprisingly topping the list, but also with enormously well-honed choices on keyboard from Franklin Bruno. The Mountain Goats, of course, is/are in Toronto on May 11. (See the nearly finished gig guide.)

Speaking of strings: A fine fine interview with Owen (Final Fantasy) Pallett with Owen's trademark concatenation of loose-cannon and sharp-shooter insights on subjects such as Montreal vs. Toronto, the ineluctable feminine x of Joanna Newsom, and making "like, a not-fake, but an entirely genuine attempt at a Damien Rice-style record."

Stereogum has a new New Pornographers' track, Twin Cinema. I had a great cinematic weekend myself. I saw The Ballad of Jack & Rose and Kung Fu Hustle, which make a weird but worthwhile double-bill. The leads in J&R; are very fine, but the standout was Canada's own Ryan McDonald as the gently hulking would-be stepbrother and aspiring hairdresser. His farewell scene with Camilla Belle's Rose hits the perfect pitch of that impossible wild teenage emotional generosity, telling her, in case he never sees her again, that she is "stupendous" - assuring her that he sees her, despite the fact that she's been little else but batshit crazy the whole time. Jena Malone plays fine counterpoint to him as a bleached blond googly-eyed teen runaway. KFH, on the other hand, is just batshit itself, romping over your eyeballs and into your brainstem up on stilts, its ass hanging out and on fire. As well, lying on the rug in Mrs. Zoilus's apartment, I saw Alain Tanner's superbly charming (albeit seventies-politics-muddled) For Jonah, Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, which I've wanted to see for years and years, and also was (accidentally) a nice foil to Jack & Rose's double-jointed idealization/condemnation/(or what?) of 1970s communal/back-to-the-lander narratives, a really compelling mess to contemplate (see also Lukas Moodysson's Together and even Von Trier's The Idiots). This year Jonah would be 30!

Also saw Sir Richard Bishop of the Sun City Girls playing at the Casa - mostly a recital of guitar pieces from various traditions, including several Django Reinhart pieces, plus improvisations. I am a hard case on such concerts (I bore too easily) and Bishop wasn't quite glittering enough a guitarist to absorb me intp the exercise. It intensified occasionally to give the brain a little Faheyesque trance-liftoff, but too seldom for my ears; I enjoyed his one sung number, a ribald-absurdist talkin' blues, the most. Still, he did semi-quasi-promise a Sun City Girls appearance at the 2006 edition of the Suoni per il Popolo festival, which news was reason enough to have stuck around.

Jody Rosen's "Much Ado About Annie," or, "When Bad Rockisms Happen to Good Pop Singers." Excellent sotto voce expose from Jody, who manages in this piece to be hella sarcastic without ever once being mean.

News | Posted by zoilus on Monday, May 02 at 12:42 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)



well i stand by my feelings of weirdness. yes, perhaps i shouldn't have read the press kit before listening - but aren't the songs explicit enough to warrant the same reaction? i don't necessarily need linear notes to tell me it's about an abusive stepfather; it's so literally spelled out by track five. and therein lies the weirdness. is it too sharp departure from a couple years ago? we all shall had a foot in the water, but some of this seems like man overboard. i do like a few of the songs, as i've mentioned. maybe i'm looking for something else in MG's music, or maybe i just don't care about darnielle's adolescence. i know there are parts of the album that are more than just that one meaning, and that is precisely where my enjoyment rests. anyway, it's definitely a guy thing.

Posted by Josh on May 5, 2005 02:15 AM



hey esme - just read the post on yr site and i think yr dead on about the 'hollowed-out spaces'. I'm also quite fixated on Lion's Teeth - as much for the music as the disorienting mix of straightforward story and ... magic realism?

just noticed the alternate version of "Dilaudid"

Posted by spitzer on May 4, 2005 11:56 AM



I've been listening to this album for more than two weeks now, and I've found it still holds plenty of spaces for it to resonate. And I have no such experiences of abuse, so I don't think it can be reduced to that.

You describe the sensation of being hit by stones, and this time knowing too well where they're coming from - and at first listen, I would agree with you. But after a few times, I found they were changing angles and velocity - and I seemed to be the one holding the stone. I've now noticed Darnielle's lyrics rising to the surface of my mind as I'm doing other things; for me they certainly didn't stay submerged in memoir.

Posted by esmeseed on May 4, 2005 10:30 AM



I think Carl's on-point on this, although I've only given the record four or five spins. this is because everything on the new one is right there on the surface, which has so far reminded me just how fucking good Tallahassee is.

I still really like it (and am SALIVATING at his live show in a week) but still.

helen spitzer this is a small e-world, almost as small as sackville

Posted by Tim on May 3, 2005 02:21 PM



Helen - I have to distance myself from the "Keith-Josh-Carl" axis here. The Sunset Tree doesn't make me "feel weird" and it isn't "disturbing" to me except in the ways that it's supposed to be disturbing. What I do feel is that it yields up its meanings too fast and too easily - I am left worrying that it won't reward repeated listening quite as much as other Mountain Goats albums do, because there are not as many deep gaps to dive into. It's incredibly affecting but perhaps, at least part of the time, more the way a memoir is than the way a poem is... and my attachment to Darnielle is to him as a poet, first of all. I don't feel like there are as many possible responses and interpretations and reactions to this record as there usually are to an MGs disc. (I feel the same way about Tallahassee, after a couple of years with it, by the way, even though it's fiction rather than autobiography - it sticks too close to a single track of thought for my taste.)

Your points about how critics listen to music, and about overinterpretation, etc., are well-taken, however. Not every album has to operate the same way and there's lots of room within the MGs corpus for this one. I am still mulling over my response, which I think will be the subject of my column this weekend.

Posted by Zoilus on May 3, 2005 12:37 PM



i've spent every listening hour of the last two weeks with this record since the moment I heard it -- riveted by track 2, goosebumps by track 4, weeping by track 8. this is the first record in 2005 that, on first listen, vaulted itself onto the running top ten tally in my brain and stayed there. so, I guess I'm in the Kelefa camp on this one, though i've yet to read his piece.

i have to say though, I'm honestly puzzled by the Keith-Josh-Carl discomfort with Darnielle's directness. (is it a guy thing?) I didn't actually read the notes that came with the record right away. As a listener it came to me in pieces, the narrative, tapping me on the shoulder and asking me to listen deeper, as any complicated record oughta. much as carl's describing in this post with reference to ‘we shall all be healed’. i think the directness, the details, the shattered glass etc. is a necessary part of that, particularly when you are talking about a bewildering home environment.

so i wonder: is this a function of how critics tend to listen to music? with the abundance of writing & gossip & interviews & opinia -- we can't come to records as innocently as we did when it was just us hiding in our rooms with a record player. I think there's a tendency sometimes -- cos the notes say, "this is a record about his abusive stepfather” or whatever, to then read that meaning into every line. And i do think songwriting's a subtler thing than that, for writer and listener.

an example: "Dilaudid" (aforementioned track 4).
I've tended to hear this song as a companion piece to an essay I read on Darnielle's lastplanetojakarta site last year, about Bill Callahan's song "Anniversary" -- one of the most memorable pieces of rock writing I've ever read btw. And then sometime last week I came across a review that read Dilaudid as coming from the adolescent narrator's voice. which, it being such a brilliant, succinct, loving, terrifying song about grown-up relationships, i can't quite buy.

Posted by spitzer on May 3, 2005 12:27 PM




EXCELLENT description of what makes The Sunset Tree a disturbing listen. Further to your point, can the couple drinking themselves to death in Tallahasse be fictional anymore? I haven't seen many interviews with Darnielle on this record, but - given the content of the last two - it's not that hard to think that they could very well be his mother and stepfather.

Hope you're going to freak us all out in the non-veto round.


Posted by fatcitizen on May 2, 2005 05:50 PM



totally agree with respect to the goats. a couple of those sunset tree songs (dance music especially) make me feel weird. and it takes quite a bit to do that. i interviewed darnielle and decided to stay away from the whole abusive stepfather subject mainly because i didn't care. i suppose that's bad journalism though. anyway, i love this year.

Posted by Josh on May 2, 2005 05:01 PM



given your remix of my moniker, hereby be advised that i would like you to join me in the studio when i recut the doug sahm sides she's about a mover and mendocino this summer. you do the augie parts?

Posted by sir rg on May 2, 2005 02:49 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson