on October 2, 2012
It's hard to predict what exactly The Mountain Goats will release with each upcoming record. Singer/songwriter John Darnielle might put out an elaborately themed concept-album - he may release a collection of character sketches. Along this continuum, TRANSCENDENTAL YOUTH falls in the latter; the record feels like a healthy smattering of good emotions and smart ideas. The lyrics of this record glance across Judas Iscariot, the Amy Winehouses of the world, rhythm-and-blues singer Frankie Lymon, Satan, characters from Scarface, and the Amish. If this all sounds cerebral, never fear: Darnielle is as sincere as songwriters get.
TRANSCENDENTAL YOUTH starts with "Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1," and ode to living and being adventurous. It's surprisingly upbeat and optimistic - Darnielle's earnest delivery sells the track. Most of the album after this opening cut is a bit more downtrodden and gloomy, not that that's necessarily bad. One of the album's highlights, Harlem Roulette, centers on the refrain "the loneliest people in the whole wide world are the ones you're never going to see again." Darnielle's lyrics border between the universal and the intimate - some of the details he writes off feel so personal that they make the more universal statements (like the previous refrain) feel all the more vital.
One of the elements that separate this record from the rest of The Mountain Goats' discography is the inclusion of the horn section. Jazz composer Matthew E. White lends his talents on TRANSCENDENTAL YOUTH, bringing in trumpets and other assorted brass to add a little bit of flair to the record. It doesn't dominate the album, but it does add a nice texture to some tracks (the title track in particular).
TRANSCENDENTAL YOUTH is a good release from the Mountain Goats, but perhaps not their best or most consistent. I prefer this over 2011's ALL ETERNALS DECK, and I think that much of what makes Darnielle a great songwriter is represented here. Fans of the band ought to seek this record out - new listeners could do worse than starting with this album. Essential tracks to sample/download: "Harlem Roulette," "Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1" and "Night Light."
on October 19, 2012
The previous album, All Eternals Deck, didn't quite succeed in reaching me, though I listen to a couple of the songs regularly. I worried (like you do) that John was going to go somewhere I couldn't follow with his work, and I was going to lose one of the few people currently working who write things that resonate with my soul.
But Transcendental Youth was exactly what I needed.
The honesty and emotion in his writing and singing is a mix of healing balm and concentrated sunlight through a magnifying glass. Perhaps it's best described as something that lances old wounds and lets the poison drain. It's what I love him for: everything he tears open, he puts back together a little better than it was before, and after I've worn through an album, maybe I'm a little more sane.
One thing that particularly caught me was the moment in Night Light when he sings, "Jenny calls from Montana ... Probably never see her again in this life, I guess." We met Jenny on All Hail West Texas, when they ride into the sunset, triumphant for the moment. He hopes she's heading east; he leaves the lights on for her, counting his few scant hopes. I'm left remembering a time when I was fifteen, staring out my window like I could force the love of my life materialise in my driveway, if I believed hard enough.
-- the altogether too emotional spouse of the owner of this account.
on October 30, 2012
Mountain Goats fans:
As a recent Mountain Goats fan myself, I can tell you that this album is pretty much in the vain of the more recent Mountain Goats album All Eternals Deck. I can also say that there's not quite the end-to-end greatness of Tallahassee, but there doesn't seem to be quite so much sorrow and sadness of that album either (the sorrow is still there, it's just not as IN YOUR FACE as Tallahassee). The vocals are still solidly on point and pretty much the entire album just "fits" the Mountain Goats feel (at least, post-self-recorded tape era). It's just about a must-buy, especially if you can get some Amazon mp3 credit to put toward it.
non-Mountain Goats fans:
As a recent Mountain Goats fan myself, I can tell you that this album is pretty much a buy for most people. John Darnielle is an excellent singer-songwriter and his vocals, though they can take some getting used to, are excellent and catchy. Transcendental Youth doesn't seem to have the same sadness prevalent in much of the Mountain Goats early work and that can almost be a better introduction for most people (All Eternals Deck is a good intro too). I would argue that Tallahassee is probably my favorite Mountain Goats album, but it is full of deceptively happy sounding songs with terribly depressing lyrics. Transcendental Youth is definitely a good starting point for new Mountain Goats fans, but just know that it's an addiction :)
on October 9, 2012
By any other musical metric this is a fantastic album. By the Mountain Goats' lofty standards, however, I'd say it's merely a great one. If you're a tMG fan, particularly of their newer releases, you will enjoy this album, and should by all means buy it! For me it's not quite as good as All Eternals Deck or Heretic Pride and doesn't touch hi-fi standards Tallahassee and The Sunset Tree, but it edges out Get Lonely and Life of the World to Come.
Thematically, this album feels like a more-optimistic We Shall All Be Healed, with its themes of mental illness and substance abuse paralleling those found in the exploration of drug-abuse on WSABH. However, this album lacks some of the emotional fidelity present in spades on that and other hi-fi tMG albums, simply by dint of the slightness of some of its lyrics. One of the primary reasons this band's music resonates for many is John Darnielle's uncanny ability to spin poetic lyrics that powerfully convey the situations and mindsets of himself and the other characters about which he sings. Meaningful lyrics are certainly still present on this album, but their moments of greatness are fewer and less spellbinding than on other recent releases. Instead, this album's musical garnishes step up to help convey the desired tone, as with the drops on Lakeside View or the horns on, well, all the tracks the horns are on. John has proven his ability to strike a great balance between musical flourish and profound lyrics (as in "Age of Kings" from AED, wherein harrowing strings amplify the despair of the narrator, who describes losing a cherished relationship), and this album strays just a bit too much to one side for my taste. Some may very well like this approach better, but as a fan who anticipates new Mountain Goats primarily as an opportunity to chew on a set of deep new lyrics, Transcendental Youth represents a very slight disappointment.
Though I've spent the lion's share of this review articulating my quibble with this album, I still wholeheartedly recommend it to both fans and those unfamiliar with the Goats. Though I don't like it quite as much as other tMG hi-fi albums, there is still plenty to love.
**As an aside, I'd also highly recommend hunting down the two songs from the single included with early pre-orders of this album: "Steal Smoked Fish" and "In the Shadow of the Western Hills." Both are acoustic, just John and his guitar (though without the much-loved whir of his boombox), and both are fantastic.
on October 2, 2012
I have now listened through this album about five times and there are many things to take note and mention.
First off, if you are just getting into The Mountain Goats or new to them, this album might not be for you. It is not the most user-friendly, even though it does wield a few nice poppy tunes. I do not recommend starting here.
For tMG veterans, here is what I have:
Lyrically, this album is purely John. After listening to enough Mountain Goats songs from their vast catalog you pick up on those lines and stylistic approaches that tell you that this is in fact a John Darnielle song, and with this album those lines are definitely there in droves:
"Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive...and stay alive, just stay alive."
"The loneliest people in the whole wide world are the ones you're never going to see again."
"Live like an outlaw clutching gold coins in his claw."
"Every dream's a good dream, even awful dreams are good dreams, if you're doing it right."
Musically the album is masterfully mixed and engineered, and while there are elements that echo with the last 6 years of tMG albums, John and the crew are heading into a more ambitious state with this group of tunes. Whether it be the horn section (Cry for Judas, White Cedar, Transcendental Youth), use of vocal effects (Until I Am Whole), the expansion of piano/drum stylings (Lakeside View Apartment Suite), or electronic background drones (Night Light), the boys are continuing to change and evolve.
As a whole album, I will admit to being tad disappointed, especially after my excitement on hearing the first single "Cry for Judas" when it was first released awhile back. There is a lack of flow to the album. While lyrically the album deals with issues in and around the mental health system, musically it does not flow as a complete piece. There are points where the skip from one song to another is just a bit too jarring and strange to connect everything together in such a way as I believe they are trying to do. Many of the songs sound as if they could have come off of other releases, even though those releases are quite different:
Until I am Whole >> Get Lonely
Lakeside View Apartment Suite >> Satanic Messiah
Harlem Roulette >> All Eternal's Deck
All that being said, this is a must have for all fans of tMG. Different and sometimes strange, a mix of styles and changes, a couple songs are among some of my new favorite tunes. Overall I place this album at a 4 star (3.7 or so if I could...) and I will say that I like it better than "The Life and the World to Come," but not nearly as great to me as the last effort "All Eternal's Deck." To sum it all up I think that this album is just a bit too ambitious for its own good.
Song that work:
Harlem Roulette (Amazing song, great lyrics and musical drive.)
Cry for Judas (New instrumentation, great drive.)
The Diaz Brothers (Truly sounds like a tMG song, solid.)
Songs that I just think didn't work:
Lakeside View Apartment Suite (Just overall uninteresting and repetitious.)
White Cedar (Just do to weird arrangement.)
Counterfeit Florida Plates (Again, weird mix of guitar and drum beat that just did seem to flow well enough.)
Quote from Booklet:
In the darkness she inhabited, only that which shows with its own light could be seen. -Magdalena Tulli
on January 21, 2013
This album, more than any other, runs with the common Mountain Goats theme of broken, screwed-up, desperate people who're still hopeful and still trying. It's bizarrely heartwarming. "Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1" and "Cry for Judas," especially, are wonderful anthems for people who have things really wrong with them and still deserve happiness. The music is incredibly good (horns!) and the lyrics are just as wonderful as they always are. Get it, you won't regret it.
on December 27, 2014
Music to listen to in the car! Music to sweep the floor by. Music to lull the baby to sleep. Music to type this review by. To? Whatever. If you like the Mountain Goats and do not have this album, then you probably don't like the Mountain Goats. Or maybe you've just discovered them. Where have you been? Never mind. It doesn't matter. Buy this album. Or don't. In the end, it's up to you. As it was in the beginning.
on December 14, 2012
John Darnielle is a brilliant singer, songwriter and observer of himself and the rest of humanity (or inhumanity as the case may be). When Warren Zevon died, I thought I lost the last living artist who spoke to me, John picked up the Mic and ran with it...
on February 2, 2013
Mountain Goats follows up off the last record, All Eternals Deck, with a very similar approach. The sound is more polished and full, with a greater variety of effects and instrumentation than fans of his earlier records will be used to. The lyrical quality is still there, and this record like many others is filled with classic Mountain Goats lines: “You can’t tell me what my spirit knows isn’t true/can you”, “Do every stupid thing/ that makes you feel alive”, “And wait for the car / with the counterfeit Florida plates”, and so on. His lyrics tell a story, or parts of a story, and have a way of encapsulating human nature and human behavior into this underground world. His songs say something profound and true, and keep you interested in the details at the same time.
I think it’s easier for new or recent fans to get into these Mountain Goats albums first – this one, All Eternals Deck, and The Sunset Tree – because the songs stand alone, and have more musical layers than some of his more hushed and introspective albums. Long-time fans may prefer the continuous storylines that revolve around the acoustic-heavy albums like “Tallahassee” and “We Shall All Be Healed”. Personally, I tend to lean towards the latter group, but it took me some time to get there.
This album is more like variations on a theme, which seems to be that of the criminal element, and the burning, stubborn desire of youth. There is some great songwriting in here, as well as some unexpected horns, and, like I said, the incredible, unique lyricism that you can’t really find anywhere else. I will always be more drawn to his quieter records that seem to tell a consistent, unrelenting story, but I give this one a 4.5 out of 5, an interesting, fun listen, and a great place for new fans to start.
on December 20, 2012
This album will not change anyone's feelings toward the Mountain Goats. The tone and feel is very similar to past albums. For me, this is fantastic. I love their past stuff, and more of the same is exactly what I am looking for.