The Mountain Goats release 15th album


D.L. Anderson

John Darnielle poses with current members of The Mountain Goats Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster. The three have comprised The Mountain Goats since 2007 (Photo courtesy of DL Anderson).

Ricky Stein

“Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive / do every stupid thing to try to drive the dark away.”

So opens the Mountain Goats’ new album “Transcendental Youth,” their 15th studio album.

As singer, songwriter and band leader of the Mountain Goats, Indiana native John Darnielle has crafted a consistent and highly distinctive body of work over the last two decades. This has had a dual effect: on the one hand, he has been able to establish a nationwide audience for his music that has enabled him to tour fairly large concert halls from coast to coast; on the other, his audience is somewhat limited to music fans who are not put off by his astringent nasal vocals and his rushed, irony-laden phrasing that tends to suggest a shade of snarkiness.

Darnielle has a gift for literate, observational songwriting. As with previous Mountain Goats albums, “Transcendental Youth” is filled with provocative imagery and carries a punkish sneer. Just a look at the song titles — leadoff track “Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1” is a good example — suggests a playful yet cerebral fun with words reminiscent of bands such as the Flaming Lips or Mellow Gold-era Beck.

On previous albums, the heavy dose of lyrical irony could be off-putting, but “Transcendental Youth” settles into a comfortable groove, keeping just clear of the dreaded realm of nerd-rock. Darnielle lacks the “cool” of bands like Spoon or the The Strokes, but he retains his own sense of earnestness nonetheless.

Standout tracks include the suburban ballad “Lakeside View Apartments Suite,” the self-destructive narrative “Cry for Judas” and the hardly satanic serenade “In Memory of Satan.” Whereas last year’s album “All Eternals Deck” was washed with touches of pedal steel and classical instrumentation, here Darnielle employs a brass section for the latter three songs, giving each an austere sense of poignancy.

His wry wit shines throughout the album. “Some things you do just to see how bad they’ll make you feel,” he laments in “Cry for Judas.” “But I am just a broken machine / and I do things that I don’t really mean.”

The best two songs on the album are the ones that most prominently feature the horn section. “In Memory of Satan,” despite the odd title, creates the pensive, reflective sensation of riding into the Florida sunset. Simple lines such as “One more season, then I’m gone” are sung unsentimentally over a rich bed of trumpet crescendos and a wandering piano line.

The mood carries through to the album’s closing title track, providing “Transcendental Youth” with a comforting resolve. A wistful lyric sings over somber instrumentation as the brass section winds down into a peaceful sixth chord in the album’s final measure.

As with the rest of the Mountain Goats’ catalog, listeners will either like Darnielle’s style or they won’t. But for fans of the band, it presents another excellent entry into their ever-expanding collection of works.

Printed on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 as: Mountain Goat's album delivers melodic cynicism