Once More with Feeling 

Best of 2006, #2

The greatest skill of the Mountain Goats has always been their ability to make fictional songs about very real things. The lion's share of early material for John Darnielle's mostly acoustic band is supposedly all the work of his imagination, while his latest few albums were his first forays into autobiographical material. Now with Get Lonely, his best album to date, the line between fictional and reality is too blurred to tell. Unless you are Darnielle, or sleep beside him, you'll never really know the true context of Get Lonely, or as a friend described it, "the divorce album."

It's clear to see Get Lonely is a giant beacon of loss, which radiates with such pure and unrelenting sadness that the record is just that much sadder than anything you'll ever hear. Yeah sure, just about every indie dude who has been kicked to the curb ends up writing a song about the experience, but the collective heartbreak of our generation seems like a paltry scratch when compared to the emotional hemorrhaging Darnielle describes here. It's not just a personal infliction, as Get Lonely pays close attention to every square inch of surrounding detail, drawing loneliness from an empty lot near a high school football game, or the sobering chill of waking up in an empty bed.

While the Mountain Goats' more recent records seem broad in scale, the focus of Get Lonely is staggering, and as it trudges from track to track, you can't help but think the protagonist (possibly Darnielle, or possibly not) is emotionally spent, and completely void of life. It's a lot to grasp—and it's not an easy listen—but unlike so many records that deal with emotion (emo, I'm talking to you), it's what Darnielle doesn't say that resonates the loudest. There are no names involved, and the plotline of the record is little more than a series of very small vignettes, where the pain of a (possible) divorce is crippling to the point that even the smallest detail leaves a ripple of pain and bad memories in its wake. Case in point, the late-night stroll of "Moon over Goldsboro," as Darnielle sings, "And as I was crossing our doorstep/I hesitated just a moment there/Remembered the day we moved into our small house/'til the vision got too vivid to bear."

There is no youthful reminiscing like on We Shall All Be Healed, nor are there the personal exorcisms of The Sunset Tree; instead Get Lonely exists to hurt you. Whether it's "real" or not doesn't matter. What does matter is the sheer attention to the smallest detail, the vivid writing of Darnielle, and the stark atmosphere of a record that is one of the best releases of 2006.

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