The 19th album by The Mountain Goats is a quarantine baby. Whilst he has been locked inside, John Darnielle brings us the exquisitely titled Getting Into Knives, a record that shows us that isolation and the underlying anxiety of an invisible killer virus works creative magic for those of us who perpetually create alternate narratives to live inside.
Unlike lockdown works by Charlie XCX or Taylor Swift, Darnielle’s album doesn’t centralise the theme of lockdown. Instead he drags us into a deluge of storytelling, constructing fully formed characters and heartwarming road trips with his trademark hint of menacing, raw life.
We kick off with the spine tinglingly cheerful Corsican Mastiff Stride, an indie bop full of good boy energy that throws us into the euphoria of nights out and before-world infamy in Get Famous. Because, you know, who doesn’t miss our five minutes of fame? Picture Of My Dress is maybe the most engaging storytelling on Getting Into Knives, reuniting us with a sense of summer wandering that was taken from us this year. Moving forward, Bell Swamp Connection features impressive lyrics such as “my curiosity, will always likely get the best of me”.
The triumph of Getting Into Knives lies in one of its closing tracks, with Rat Queen, a masterpiece that hangs off its catchy chorus for long after the record is over, while the title track is at odds with the cover’s dark imagery, a gentle lament about the joys of collecting, leaving us with an upbeat and hopeful drum beat to take into our future.
All in all, Getting Into Knives is a good record for those who’ve dipped a cautious toe into the work of The Mountain Goats in the past, as well as a great revival for more hardcore fans. There’s the usual indie-folk ditties, and Darnielle’s impressive storytelling and world building jumps from the wholesome to the transgressive and back again through the 13 tracks.
What’s true is that we need art to get us through this pandemic. Whilst Getting Into Knives is not a pandemic focused album, the pandemic has informed every single choice on this beautifully produced record. Right now, we need to connect. We need art and we need music, and we need songs that reconnect us with our lost nights. With Getting Into Knives, The Mountain Goats provide us with a smorgasbord of robbed emotions and new, neon-backdropped friends – and we need it more now than ever.