The Sunset Tree
A captivating songwriter who has long used his imagination to shed light on the inner lives of misfits, from aging married folks to paranoid drug addicts, John Darnielle (the one constant member of this rotating ensemble) turns the microscope on himself for this unflinching look at his adolescence. Darnielle dedicates the album to his stepfather, an abusive drunk who made things difficult for his family. “Dance Music” spells out the angry tirades, glasses shattering, and a child hiding, with only music to block out the horror. “This Year” is Darnielle’s call to self-reliance (best line: “I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me”). Several other tunes replay difficult scenes, while others handle Darnielle’s other obsessions including reggae performer Dennis Brown’s weakness for cocaine. Many Mountain Goats albums were recorded under lo-fi conditions (basically, a Panasonic boombox). However, like many more recent MG collections, The Sunset Tree was recorded professionally and carefully uses the added fidelity to create a strong, never overpowering mood, with sawing strings accompanying Darnielle’s swiftly strummed acoustic guitar.