'Wear Black' from Goths by The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats followed the terrific wrestling-themed Beat the Champ set of 2015 with an entire album exploring the (Pop)cultural phenomenon of Goth in 2017. Of course. And of course too John Darnielle is far too clever and/or marvellously awkward to pull a trick so clumsy and obvious as making such a record in the accepted style of Goth. I mean, there is no doubt that he could if he wanted, but that would almost certainly result in a record inevitably filled with cliche and predictability. Some might say that there are few things so predictable as a Mountain Goats record, but this is clearly true only to the point of saying yes, well, maybe and maybe not. There are certainly a string of early to mid period Mountain Goats records where threads of commonality weave throughout in terms of abrupt and rudimentary recording techniques lending much of the landscape a similarly blasted and bleak prospect. That’s fine though. I have no quarrel with that, and the earnest, viscerally intelligent Darnielle of those records remains one of my very favourite recording artists. The Mountain Goats of more recent times however are far more varied and apply a touch which is never as light and as measured as on Goths.
So Goths is a Goth vision refracted through the lenses of its ‘80s counterpoint of lush sophisticated Pop. Goths is Andrew Eldritch masquerading as Martin Fry (and/or vice versa) and Gene Loves Jezebel courted by Hall and Oates. Except even that is a little disingenuous, for Mountain Goats here fill their songs not so much with synthetic technology but often with the natural sounds of brushed drums and acoustic bass. There is space. There is light. Naturally I will resist suggesting that this creates a sound that is more ‘authentic’ (for surely such a notion would be absurd in the context of songs about a cultural identity which is so carefully drawn in artifice and the dark arts of concealment) but it is a sound that is warm, oddly comforting and fittingly mature.
Finest of all is the beautiful ‘Wear Black’ which is all Sisterhood snakebite polished by Scritti Politti and accompanied by heavenly gospel choirs. It’s the Batcave decorated with tinfoil and fairy lights; the gloomth of Walpole’s Strawberry Hill made over by Philippe Stark. ‘Wear Black’ both reinforces the cliche of Goth costume and neatly pops the bubble of that stereotype: An acknowledgement and repudiation in the same breath, if you will. Darnielle sings in his finest angelic tones: “check me out, I can’t blend in. Check me out, I’m young and ravishing” and if there was ever a line that succinctly captured the essence of fashion as youthful expression then I either have not heard it yet or cannot remember. Given my age it is entirely possible that the later explanation is the true one, but nevertheless…
‘Wear Black’ then sets Goth as Malevich cast his black square on canvas: Goth, perhaps more than any Youth Cultural movement, invites us to escape the dead-weight of the world into ones of fantasy and illusion. Yet it also opens doors to glimpse the universal human frailties those fantasies embrace. Of course it does. How could it not? Lives, with their realities and dreams, are simply complex, after all.