The Mountain Goats, "Tallahassee"
I struggled for twenty minutes just trying to pick one album to share with you. The Mountain Goats' discography consists of 14 full albums, 18 EPs, and six rare cassette releases. Including lost tracks, two unreleased albums, and six collaboration albums, the Mountain Goats' song library is estimated to be over 800 songs. In the end I chose Tallahassee because it was the first Goats album I listened to, and it has a good handful of fan favorites on it.
Mountain Goats songwriter John Darnielle is known for writing music that puts a crystal-clear mental image in the mind of the listener. His seamless lyrics flow effortlessly (almost always in complete sentences, with creative rhymes or near-rhymes), and his voice is clear and bright. Peter Hughes knows his way around a bass guitar, and lends a depth to the album that no one else could have.
Tallahassee is perhaps Darnielle's best-loved story, a formal compilation of songs about a couple referenced here and there on other albums. Named the "Alpha Couple" by fans, these are two people who are caught in a torrent of love and hate, having just moved to Tallahassee in a last-ditch attempt at starting over. Shortly, they begin drinking themselves to death. The album is a hailing flurry of inventive, descriptive lyrics, memorable hooks, and the rockingest folk-rock you’ll ever hear.
Driven by Darnielle's unique guitar stylings, "Southwood Plantation Road" outlines what life is like here for the Alpha Couple: "All night long, you giggle and scream. Your brown eyes, deeper than a dream. I am not gonna lose you. We are gonna stay married in this house like a Louisiana graveyard where nothing stays buried." Peter Hughes' melodic bassline carries along throughout the song and lends it a dance quality like no other.
Fan favorite “No Children” is the first Mountain Goats song I ever heard, and its intensity strikes me every time I listen to it. In this piano-heavy ballad, Darnielle most clearly illustrates the desperate love-hate relationship of the Alpha Couple. “I am drowning; there is no sign of land. You are coming down with me, hand in unlovable hand.” The song’s in waltz time, and if you’re overcome by the desire to headbang to a moderate-tempo folk rock song, I won’t judge you.
“See America Right” has become one of the Goats’ most respected songs within the songwriters’ community, a nearly perfect poem set in a throbbing rhythm, one of the few songs on this album with a drumline. “Got on the bus half-drunk again; the driver glared at me. Met up with you in Inglis, thumbed a ride to Cedar Key.”
“Old College Try” is my favorite song on the album because of its easygoing rhythm, the perc organ cooing in the background, and the complicated mood of these perfect lyrics: “I can feel it in the rotten air tonight, in the tips of my fingers, in the skin on my face, in the weak last gasp of the evening’s dying light, in the way those eyes I’ve always loved illuminate this place like a trash can fire in a prison cell, like the searchlights in the parking lots of hell.”
The story of the Alpha Couple-- in fact, all the stories Darnielle scrapes out from the inside of himself and shares with us-- isn’t hard to make out. That’s what’s so beautiful about Tallahassee. You don’t even have to try to visualize what’s happening, because it’s right there in the music.