46.) The Mountain Goats - Tallahassee (2002)
In 2002, John Darnielle decided to change some shit. Up until the release of Tallahassee, Darnielle's work had been done mostly by himself and recorded to tapes - as lo-fi as lo-fi could be. For Tallahassee he enlisted the help of an honest to goodness band. He also decided to sign with an actual label - that being the famed 4AD and this resulted in what I perceive to be Darnielle's best work.
Tallahassee sees Darnielle flesh out two characters he'd written about before - a couple simply known as "The Alpha Couple" - a couple always on the verge of divorce. Tallahassee can be bleak at times, but sometimes bleak is beautiful. Darnielle is, at heart, a storyteller (if you haven't read his entry in the 33 1/3 book series for Black Sabbath's Masters of Reality you really should). His pre-Tallahassee output had some of the most defined characters in modern song, but these were snapshots. The equivalent of short stories. Really good ones, but short stories nonetheless.
Tallahassee is Darnielle's first attempt at writing a musical novel and it's a home run. I hesitate to call it a concept record, even though it technically is, because in my mind concept record really mean prog-y theatrics and characters no one really relates to..."it's all about the music, man. You know? Tune in and trip out. Shit". Maybe that's ignorant but what can you do.
Tallahassee isn't like that. "The Alpha Couple" seem so real and vivid that they could live next door and actually may if you live in, well...Tallahassee. It's more reminiscent of David Gates' wonderful novels "Jernigan" and "Preston Falls" than it is of Tommy (thank god) or Kid A. If you don't know the record, I hesitate to reveal anything other than what I already have. "The Alpha Couple" are unhappy but it's not only morose as sometimes there's humor in the sadness. Tallahassee is full of those wonderful surprises. And that's all I'll say. It'll mean more when you listen to the record the first time.
Tallahassee literally reads like a great novel (have I overstated this yet?) and one that you won't want to put down. Don't listen to single tracks (though if you must every Mountain Goats fan will tell you listen to "No Children". It's a masterpiece). Sit with Tallahassee. Pour a glass of wine and soak the record in. Appreciate the details and the nuance of Darnielle's lyrics and be swept away in the story and the melody - while Tallahassee is mostly about the words, the music is first rate as well - and be bowled over by the most interesting and best record from one of the decades truly indispensable artists.
Posted by Pat Driscoll