Music Reviews
Getting Into Knives

The Mountain Goats Getting Into Knives

(Merge) Rating - 7/10

That Getting Into Knives—the latest LP from The Mountain Goats—goes down easy isn’t a slight. It’s an album of breezy and loose songs, quirky yet endearing instrumentations, and well-executed parody. Clearly, frontman John Darnielle and company are having a lot of fun.

Following their first 2020 release, the lo-fi, quarantine take Songs For Pierre Chuvin, Getting Into Knives is a return to form. Album opener Corsican Mastiff Stride is a jaunty tune that acts as a tribute to Darnielle’s pet mastiff. Meanwhile, single Get Famous—with its supporting horn lines and crescendoing energy—isn’t unlike Wilco circa Being There. It’s a parody, for sure—one that pokes fun at the idea of blind ambition for fame. Nonetheless, it succeeds thanks to its lighthearted mood.

Over the years, The Mountain Goats have dialed down their quirks, yet have still managed to hold onto their distinguishable qualities. Drummer Jon Wurster’s strolling rhythms keep the album alive and help prevent what could be an album of diminishing returns. The varied instrumental arrangements are designed to work in tandem with their songs rather than serve as the highlights. Tidal Wave, for instance, is carried by a soft, rolling rhythm decorated with woodwind lines and flourishes. As Many Candles As Possible opens with Microphones-esque rumblings before evolving into a thunderous blend of pounding percussion, urgent mellotron lines, and screeching guitars.

Nevertheless, where the album excels is through its storytelling. Many tracks offer listeners in-depth narratives, whether they’re about rats hoarding a dumpster (Rat King) or a sympathetic fugitive (Harbor Me.) Thanks to a tweet from Maggie Smith, Picture of My Dress tells the tale of a divorced woman traveling with her wedding dress and taking photos of it wherever she goes. “It still looks good, I only wore it once / Nine years ago, nine years and seven months,” he sings, implying a mix of reflection and acceptance. It’s arguably the album’s strongest track.

The Mountain Goats’ tamer approach, however, isn’t bullet-proof; some tracks simply get lost in the shuffle. The slow, sparse structure of The Last Place I Saw You Alive undercuts its poignant and introspective lyrics. Meanwhile, Pez Dorado, despite its decorative percussion, sounds too similar to the preceding Tidal Wave. Getting Into Knives does pick up by its final third, however, relying on more accessible rock tropes. Rat Queen, with its punchy, barroom-style piano, feels like a classic-rock take of Ben Folds. Harbor Me runs on a jam-like progression that could wrap up a festival set.

Given the year we’ve been through, it’s hard not to treat Getting Into Knives as a welcomed breather. Scattered throughout are moments of small yet effective reassurances like on Tidal Wave: “Not everything’s a tidal wave." Sure, there are things to be genuinely concerned about (especially this year), but not everything is so dire.