76.) The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree (2005)
I should start this entry by saying John Darnielle, who essentially is The Mountain Goats, is the best songwriter of this decade. I have and will continue to reference a slew of great songwriters on this list, many of whom play in the same league as Darnielle but who are not, in fact John Darnielle. If songwriting were Major League Baseball, Darnielle would be Albert Pujols. He's got competition, but he's still the best.
Anyway, The Sunset Tree was a different type of Mountain Goats album in that it was really the first time Darnielle got personal. He spent a career crafting characters and setting the trials and tribulation to song and, more often then not, singing them into a boom box and spearheading a second coming of the lo-fi movement.
The Sunset Tree was a huge risk. Darnielle stepped out of his comfort zone and began singing songs about himself -more specifically about his abusive childhood at the hand of his stepfather. Tough topics, but Darnielle approached these songs the way he did his character studies and created a record so vivid you felt like you were there. You could smell the liquor on a young Darnielle's breath in "This Year" (Darnielle's greatest song and a Top 5 song of the decade) and you feel his fear when he wakes his stepfather up in "Hast Thou Considered The Tetrapod."
The record plays like a novel, sad and emotional but hopeful. It's about the importance of music in all of our lives. Darnielle uses music to escape the screams of his stepfather and the abuse (in "Tetrapod" while his stepfather hits him his only hope is that he doesn't break his stereo). And I understand that. Not the "getting beat up by someone you should trust" part, but the "music can heal most anything" part. Most of us can, I'd imagine. Music is a retreat for so many of us. It's gotten us through hardship and been there during times of happiness and ultimately that's why it's so important. It's why I make these lists. I want to celebrate it. It's my constant.
It's interesting to think of some kid listening to The Sunset Tree while going through something similar to Darnielle, but it's probably happened and I'm sure that kid finds hope in the record. That's pretty great. It's a really beautiful record and Darnielle is really a fantastic artist who has managed to make consistent great records for a long time. He's an artist who I look forward to hearing every single time out. The Sunset Tree is not the exception as much as it's the rule.
(NOTE: While I am not an advocate for listening to songs vs. records, I'll say this - if you've never heard a Mountain Goats song listen to "This Year" - it's about as perfect a song that has ever been written and then just think about how good all the rest of them must be.)
Posted by Pat Driscoll