BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Founded in Claremont, Calif., but currently based in Durham, NC, the Mountain Goats are an eccentric bunch to say the very least. Originally the sole domain of its original member John Darnielle, the band’s seen a steady shift in its membership over the years, leaving only a trio left to carry out its mission some 20 years on. Their initial output was mostly of the lo-fi variety — home recordings (on a boom box of all things!) primitive cassettes and 7” singles — but in recent years they’ve grown up and become a full-fledged touring ensemble with a reputable label behind them.
That’s not to say they’re not still prone to bouts of eccentricity; their new album, Beat the Champ, references wrestling from the first hand perspective of the fighters involved. It’s a curious theme to say the least, but regardless, one that works surprisingly well. Like They Might Be Giants, their closest relative when it comes to style and sensibility, they take a quirky mindset and make it melodic, so much so that the tunes are near impossible to shake.
Indeed, despite the unlikely set-up, there’s a classic archetypical feel to the set as a whole, whether it’s the subdued send-off provided by opening track “Southwestern Territory,” the loping pace of “Animal Mask” or the kinetic rock of “Choked Out.” Even a song like “Foreign Object,” which bizarrely describes the illegal means of subduing an opponent (“I personally will stab you in the eye with a foreign object…”) is eminently entertaining. Add a bit of bolero via “Werewolf Gimmick,” a lush piano coda on “Heel Turn 2” and a series of catchy refrains throughout, and we’re left with one of the absolute stand-out albums in a still young year. No ref’s decision needed.
DOWNLOAD: “Southwestern Territory,” “Heel Turn 2,” “Foreign Object”