All Hail West Texas (Remastered)

All Hail West Texas (Remastered)

In 1989, John Darnielle paid $89 for a Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox—a long, skinny, black hulk of plastic and metal with a microphone wedged deep inside its missile-like body. Over the next decade, he would document detail-rich portraits of emotional disrepair by howling into that boombox in a barely intonated bleat over heavy acoustic strums. Still very much an underground figure, one best known to college-radio DJs and record-store obsessives, Darnielle’s The Mountain Goats would steadily become one of the most distinct projects in the American lo-fi community, with his Panasonic and his poignant tales making perfect partners for these songs from the abyss. His 2002 boombox masterpiece, All Hail West Texas, serves as the gripping culmination of a decade of singular music. It’s also one of the best singer-songwriter records ever committed to any medium. There are lines in All Hail West Texas perfectly suited for tattoos inked at the end or start of a romance—lines like “We were the one thing in the galaxy God didn’t have his eyes on,” or “I got sugar in the fuel lines, both of us do.” For any emo band, these would be career-defining lyrics. But for a storyteller like Darnielle, they’re simply bits of dialogue or plot points. All Hail West Texas is full of people desperately seeking whatever sanctuary they can find, whether it’s an imagined metal band that lets misfits escape their small-city blues; a house of exhausted refugees where no one asks questions; a love that lets you back in, even after the most extreme falling-out. It’s tempting to see All Hail West Texas as a concept album, as its references to Denton, Pecos, Austin, and “the West Texas Highway like a Möbius strip” suggest a lived-in atlas of a vast and often-overlooked American wonderland. But the real concept is one of survival. The characters here must endure the panic attacks that come with crossing state lines alone, or the worry about taking care of a newborn who shows up on “a strange wind all full of new smells.” Darnielle ends the album on “Absolute Lithops Effect,” his bent chords warped by the Panasonic. He sings about the pain he’s endured and the hope that he’s now made it to the other side—just like the desert succulents that survive because they look like rocks. “After one long, sweltering summer,” he promises, “I’m going to find the exit.”

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