Ah, John Darnielle. Musician, novelist, actor on the TV show “Poker Face.” Best known as the founding (and often sole) member of the Mountain Goats, Darnielle has spent the past three decades hitting sad hipsters right in their sad hipster feels with his ghostly vocals, his ability to turn a phrase, his penchant for weird titles like “Michael Myers Resplendant,” “That Black Ice Cream Song” and “Clemency for the Wizard King” and his mixture of folk, punk, lo-fi and rock tendencies.
The Mountain Goats are a cult classic band to be sure, with a dedicated and devoted fan base almost specifically made up of nasally-voiced dudes. Case in point: Joseph Fink, one of the founders of “Welcome to Night Vale” and host of fan show “I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats.” Are you a nasally-voiced dude? Are you a fan of the Mountain Goats? Are you bleedin’ for “Sweden” are you a “Possum by Night?” Have you come to the “Sunset Tree?” Are you just really excited for “Jenny From Thebes?” Well if so, read on and see how your favorite albums stack up.
21. Get Lonely (2006)
This album has the vibe that can best be described as: Eeyeore head-ass. In all seriousness, when people set out to roast the Mountain Goats – and they often do, even the fans – a common critique that’s brought up is that the band tends to sound whiny. And mewling. And not very… what’s the term… not-unpleasant. And that lack of pleasantness is never on display better than in “Get Lonely.” Oh, it’s a very competently produced record. There are some truly great moments on it. It has a great, spare folk sound, like Darnielle is trying to cosplay as Nick Drake. But ultimately, this is a record that feels better suited for ardent fans than newcomers.
Play it again: “Maybe Sprout Wings”
Skip it: “New Monster Avenue”
20. All Eternals Deck (2011)
“All Eternals Deck” is probably the most Rock-focused album the Mountain Goats ever put out. Especially with songs like “Estate Sale Sign” and “Prowl Great Cain.” It almost feels reminiscent of the pop-punk and emo music that was popular at the start of the new millennium. Except, you know, not crawling with sexual predators.
Play it again: “Damn These Vampires”
Skip it: “For Charles Bronson”
19. Songs For Pierre Chuvin (2020)
Boy oh boy we love a COVID project, don’t we? Some of us made sourdough, some of us learned guitar, some of us started podcasts. Some of us went off the absolute deep end and decided to have a… baby for whatever reason. John Darnielle decided to use the regulations and isolations of COVID-19 to record “Songs for Pierre Chuvin,” a short, abrasive and odd little album that harkens back to the band’s early, lo-fi days. There’s nothing really wrong with this album. It’s named for a dead historian, it’s got songs about pagans and hopeful assassins. It’s a great entry point to the pre- “Tallahassee” sound of the band. But still, once you’ve heard “Coroner’s Gambit” or “Sweden,” it’s very hard for this to quite measure up.
Play it again: “Until Olympius Returns”
Skip it: “Hopeful Assassins of Zeno”
18. Full Force Galesburg (1997)
For whatever reason “Full Force Galesburg” tends to get the short end of the stick when people talk about The Mountain Goats’ lo-fi era. And sure, to be clear, it’s not the band’s best album. But it is a clear step on the way to the sound that would ultimately feature in albums like “Heretic Pride” and “In League With Dragons,” with Darnielle toning down the buzz-saw abrasiveness (in parts) for something a little more melodic and folksy. Overall, it’s a very good, if sometimes slightly boring listen. Of all the album covers we’ve gotten from The Mountain Goats, this is one of the least pleasant, with canary yellow background and appropriated Hindu art just randomly in one corner. But still, and it bears repeating… Hi, Joel.
Play it again: “Snow Owl”
Skip it: “US Mill”
17. Nothing For Juice (1996)
This is an album that suffers from one problem. It front-loads a lot of its least impressive material. Specifically songs like “Heights,” which feel like meandering scribble scrabble. Like a dumb little donkey child doing a placemat maze. Still, this album is full of brave choices. Like John Darnielle, with his… John Darnielle voice, doing a cover of Blues standard “Hellhound on My Trail,” is… a choice. Playing it super uptempo is also a choice. It doesn’t not work. But it’s a choice. That being said, the opener, “Then the Letting Go” is one of the all-time best Mountain Goats songs. Beautiful and understated and not even two minutes long. Other songs like “Alpha Double Negative: Going to Catalina” are fantastic continuations of the “Alpha Couple’s” blistering journey toward divorce.
Play it again: “Then The Letting Go”
Skip it: “Heights”
16. Beat the Champ (2015)
Oh fuck me, this cover’s ugly. It’s weird how such an aggressive seeming album, one in which Darnielle promises to jab us “in the eye with a foreign object,” opens with a little kitty-whimper of a song in “Southwestern Territory.” Still, there is a lot of bluster to “Beat the Champ,” but it never quite seems to rise to the challenge of some of the other Mountain Goats albums from the 2010s.
Play it again: “Foreign Object”
Skip it: “Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan”
15. Getting Into Knives (2020)
Amazingly, this and “Songs for Pierre Chuvin” came out mere months apart. They couldn’t sound more different. Whereas “Pierre Chuvin” is grating, brief and lo-fi, “Getting Into Knives” is jazzy, lush and thoroughly hi-fi. It’s classic recent Mountain Goats fare. Snarky lyrics. Catchy hooks. Darnielle screaming as often as he’s singing. There are some incredible singles like “Get Famous.” The issue here is, much like “Pierre,” there’s really nothing super new here. Also, it’s weird that this is where Darnielle decided to make some super long songs.
Play it again: “Picture of My Dress”
Skip it: “The Last Place I Saw You Alive”
14. Zopilote Machine (1994)
“OH MY GOD, it’s ‘GOING TO GEORGIA!’ OH MY GOD! OH…” Great. Yeah. We love “Going to Georgia,” don’t we folks. That’s… the song on here that TikTok made famous, huh. Nobody talked about this album forever and then TikTok made “Going to Georgia” big. You really like it. You know what… you really wanna know what, though, folks? We like “Going to Georgia” too. But this album has a lot of great stuff on it aside from that, the introduction of the should-be-divorced Alpha Couple, for instance, and the first and only full-length appearance of the backing group, The Bright Mountain Choir.
Play it again: “Alpha Sun Hat”
Skip it: “Standard Bitter Love Song #7”
13. In League With Dragons (2019)
I don’t know how it wouldn’t be obvious to everyone that John Darnielle was one day going to make a “D&D” themed concept album, but of course he did. That’s not to say this is the audible equivalent of listening to a “Dungeons and Dragons” session. It’s far too quick and pleasant and the people making it seem at least tangentially aware of nudity. In all seriousness, “In League With Dragons” is pretty good all the way through. It’s one of Darnielle’s more personal albums, touching on his experiences with drugs. The opening track, “Done Bleeding” is a particularly good example of this. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with this album, but it feels pretty well-worn territory-wise by now.
Play it again: “Done Bleeding” and “Waylon Jennings Live!”
Skip it: “Cadaver Sniffing Dog”
12. Bleed Out (2022)
Remember when this album came out and The Alamo Drafthouse used “Training Montage” in a trailer for their September 2022 lineup? Remember how fun it was watching Coraline’s Other Mother jump down her spider web while John sang: “I’M DOING THIS FOR REVENGE?” No? Just us? Did not a lot of you go to the Alamo Drafthouse in late August of last year? Hey… do not a lot of you have access (either proximity wise or financially) to an Alamo Drafthouse? No. Oh, fuck, well… this ain’t gonna work. Either way, this album came out at the right time for us. We’d all just started boxing to work on our anger issues and it felt great blasting this album on the ride home from the gym. 8/10 Fighting Mittens. Which is what we could call Boxing Gloves if we ever met Logan Paul, because it would really piss him off.
Play it again: “Training Montage”
Skip it: “Make You Suffer”
11. We Shall All Be Healed (2004)
I have a little secret that I’m only going to share with you, don’t whisper a word of it to anyone, but I prefer this album to “Tallahassee.” And it’s not close. However… cultural legacy is important and blah, blah, blah, blah blah… there’s great stuff on here. And y’all overlook it because it came out in between “Tallahassee” and “The Sunset Tree?” Well… that’s fair. It’s tough being the shrimp between two whales. But seriously, when was the last time you truly listened to “Slow West Vultures?” When was the last time you sat and… listened? To anything? Or anyone? When was the last time anyone smiled when they saw you coming? When was the last time you did something for someone else? When was the last time you believed in Heaven? Did you stop believing once you realized you had lived a life bound to fall short of grace? What would that change, do you think? If you listened? Either way. “We are who we are. Get in the goddamn car.” Okay?
Play it again: “Linda Blair Was Born Innocent”
Skip it: “Mole”