The Mountain Goats have come a long way since their inception in the 1990s. Their recent work is practically unrecognizable when compared to their first few albums, which were recorded in ultra-low fidelity with minimal equipment.
This sort of sonic evolution is to be expected, particularly from a group with such an enormous body of work spanning almost three decades. Beyond gaining access to studio-grade equipment, the passage of time and the band’s rotating membership has kept each of their albums sounding unique and fresh.
Their most recent release, “Bleed Out,” takes this growth even further, retaining their signature folky feel while inviting in numerous new sounds and textures.
The album begins on a somewhat humorous note with “Training Montage,” a tune whose lyrics describe the titular training montage, paying homage to the Hollywood trope. The song’s verses are full of tongue-in-cheek references to the film technique. These sections don’t take themselves entirely seriously, but they’re not played for laughs by any means.
This is evidenced by the song’s chorus, which turns more serious, dedicating the effort of training to an unknown “you.” The first verse is accompanied by a muted acoustic guitar, but the arrival of the chorus brings with it driving drums and distorted electric guitars.
The musical and lyrical dichotomy between the verse and chorus gives them each a distinct tone that works to excellent effect, creating a tune that is as much a light anthem as it is a heartfelt devotion.
“Wage Wars Get Rich Die Handsome” represents another departure from the typical Mountain Goats sound. It opens boisterously, with punk rock guitar and drums reminiscent of Green Day or blink-182. Singer John Darnielle’s iconic voice takes on a nasal quality to reflect this style as well.
This punk sound continues throughout, while the lyrics present a devil-may-care attitude, endorsing fast driving and war-waging. Darnielle said “Bleed Out” was heavily influenced by action films, which is evident here.
“Bones Don’t Rust” features a prominent bassline and snare-driven drums, with minimal guitar arpeggios and occasional accordion accompaniment. It’s certainly a unique texture, sounding somewhere between the classic Mountain Goats and the Black Keys.
This gritty sound complements the lyrics nicely. They describe the consequences and virtues in hard work, highlighting the strength it brings as well as the physical toll it takes on the body.
Darnielle brings in elements of funk with “Guys on Every Corner,” featuring an introductory saxophone line, as well as a solid bassline and chunky guitars. The Mountain Goats aren’t well known for their groove, but “Guys on Every Corner” challenges this reputation.
With its driven beat, the song boasts a troupe of covert supporters covering every corner, ready at any moment to attack the status quo, represented here by “tabloid stars,” “special forces” and “riot shields.”
The closer and title track, “Bleed Out,” takes things down a notch, with a calming acoustic guitar and piano making up most of the texture. The guitar keeps a steady beat while the piano plays countermelodies in the upper register, providing a shimmery, nostalgic quality to the tune.
This tone takes on some morosity when coupled with the lyrics, which describe the slow, tortured death of the narrator over the course of the song’s seven minutes. For a song with a relatively light sound, its lexical content is strikingly somber.
As a complete album, “Bleed Out” continues the Mountain Goats’ consistent track record, maintaining their signature sound while utilizing novel textures that blend seamlessly with their style. It guides the listener effortlessly through a myriad of genres, capping it all off with a haunting death knell to mark the end of this exceptional work.