I’ve been meaning to write a review (or opinion piece, might be more appropriate) about this for a while now: Transcendental Youth, the new album from The Mountain Goats. New meaning, it was released in October 2012 and they haven’t come out with another album to usurp / surpass its newness as of yet.
The album is pretty much more of the same, with the band steadily heading down the standard rock band route they’ve been heading down the last few albums. As with the previous albums, it’s overall a bit underwhelming, there’s nothing that really feels new and exciting, but it has a handful of decent-to-great songs to make it worth a purchase.
Or actually, that’s a slight lie. This album does have something new: horns! On the album’s promotional track “Cry For Judas” – which was made available for free downloading before the album dropped, and which now has this music video to go along with it – horns are prominently featured. That was a first, and it created certain expectations as to how the album would sound: horns, horns everywhere! Unfortunately they’re only used (from what I could hear) on four songs out of twelve, and three of those are among the more slow and unexciting songs on the album.
My favourite tracks on the album are, in order from most to least favourite: “Cry For Judas”, “Amy Aka Spent Gladiator 1”, “Counterfeit Florida Plates”, “Harlem Roulette”, and “The Diaz Brothers”. These I’ll occasionally return to for a quick listen.
If you were among the first to pre-order, you got a bonus 7″ vinyl single containing “Steal Smoked Fish” and “In the Shadow Of The Western Hills” plus a convenient download code. As with the album, I found it a bit underwhelming. The songs are both guitar-and-vocals demo songs and not studio outtakes, and are both fairly forgettable. The vinyl doesn’t come with a proper cover either, just a white sleeve, further contributing to the underwhelmingess. It’s a neat little bonus for hardcore fans, but definitely not a must. If you got the Japanese version of the album, you’d also get the studio version of “Steal Smoked Fish” plus a cover of “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie. Unfortunately these aren’t easily available outside of Japan; you can only buy the two songs digitally if you actually live in Japan due to region restrictions, and importing the physical album costs a small fortune. I think I’d have preferred getting a CD-single containing these two songs rather than the vinyl.
Now let’s turn our attention to Tallahassee Turns Ten, another album I’ve been meaning to write about. It’s a tribute cover album released last year to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Mountain Goats‘ Tallahasse album. The tribute album was funded through Kickstarter, and they even had an open call to fill a few spots in the track list.
Overall, and unfortunately, this turned out to be a pretty big disappointment. I have problems distinguishing one band from another as I move from track to track, as the overall sound – including the vocalists – rarely changes much. This is run-of-the-mill semi-professional indie music, and it isn’t very exciting. The only real standout song is to me “Small Arms Traffic Blues” by Tiger Waves, almost turning an excellent low-key song into a rockin’ surfer-song. Unfortunately the vocals (or at least they way they’re mixed) leaves something to be desired, and there are no typical surfer-song harmonies.
The most disappointing song is Jeffrey Lewis’ take on “See America Right”. It feels like a totally unrelated, improvised, ramshackle rock jam, with Jeffrey’s distorted vocals barely audible as he tries to shout out the song’s two verses.
I actually submitted a song to this compilation myself: “Idylls Of The Kings”, one of my all-time favourites. I wasn’t super happy with my version, and I wasn’t too surprised when it was rejected – though I must admit I was disappointed. Instead they went with a version by Miracles Of Modern Science. And their version isn’t bad – it’s one of the better tunes on the album! But it could’ve done with a slightly different production to help it really pop. Maybe something more akin to Smells Like Happiness, the energetic debut album of The Hidden Cameras, as they seem to be roughly in the same ball park of indie chamber pop. But I digress!
I hate to be “mean”, especially as the people behind it seem very approachable and passionate, but I don’t want to be dishonest. In the end, I found it a pretty boring, forgettable affair. Which is a shame, as Tallahassee remains one of The Mountain Goats‘ career highlights, and the idea of a track-by-track homage is very appealing. I do recommend you give the album a listen yourself to see how you like it yourself.
To finish off, two tunes: “Steal Smoked Fish” from the pre-order bonus vinyl, and Tiger Waves‘ cover of “Small Arms Traffic Blues”. As always, support the artists if you enjoy these.