The Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth
- The new Mountain Goats album is their 14th full length in 18 years, not to mention countless EPs, singles and demos. There's plenty here to please their army of devout fans, but at the same time there's nothing much to take you by surprise if you've been listening to their recent output. This time around, much of the album is piano driven, with the addition of a subtle horn section bringing a refreshing change, but the songwriting treads familiar territory, which is not a bad thing. Like most Mountain Goats albums of the past decade, it can loosely be considered a concept album: all the songs on Transcendental Youth are about characters who are outsiders, the mentally ill and others struggling to fit in to society. It's partly inspired by the time John Darnielle spent working as a nurse in mental institutions. One of Darnielle's strengths is his storytelling ability, and he's always excelled at putting himself in other people's shoes. The highlights of Transcendental Youth showcase this empathy and strong storytelling, in particular the singalong anthem Harlem Roulette, about the 1950s child star and R&B singer Frankie Lymon, who died of a heroin overdose at age 25. There's also the brilliant Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1 which is apparently inspired by Amy Winehouse, though it's not particularly obvious from the lyrics. Amy is the album highlight for me, and the first one I'd put on a "best of the Mountain Goats" mixtape for new fans. Overall though, too many of these songs blend in to one another, and despite some standout lines here and there, the narratives don't always emerge clearly. Still, Transcendental Youth is a solid addition to the Mountain Goats catalogue, with a few songs that I'd rank among their career highlights.
- Grace Nye.