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Getting to Know the Mountain Goats: An Introduction

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The Mountain Goats are something of an acquired taste: They’re earnest and wordy, and Darnielle’s vocals strike some people as too … well, goatlike*. There are people in my life who have given them a fair chance and decided they’re just not for them. Fine. But I also have several decades-long friendships in which a mutual love of the Mountain Goats is a major component. My dear pal Matt first introduced the band to me almost 20 years ago (!) when he played me “Going to Georgia” while we were driving aimlessly around the New Jersey suburbs, and the world seemed to stand still. All these years later, we’re still going to shows, trading rarities and debating the merits of each new release. They’re just that kind of band.

Listen along on Spotify as you read.

Some of the best Mountain Goats songs — like this one, from “All Hail West Texas” — seem like they’re trying to slow time and preserve an ecstatic moment as precisely as possible (“Our house faced west,” Darnielle specifies here, “so the big orange sun positioned at your back lit up your magnificent silhouette”). This song introduces the motorcyclist Jenny, for whom the Mountain Goats’ new album is named. (Listen on YouTube)

Perhaps the best-known Mountain Goats song (for good reason; it’s fantastic), “This Year” is also the most anthemic track from “The Sunset Tree,” the wrenching, straightforwardly autobiographical 2005 album on which Darnielle grappled with his relationship to his abusive stepfather, who had recently died. Though grounded in his own teenage experience, which he vividly reanimates here, the chorus features a rousing, universal survivor’s battle cry: “I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me.” (Listen on YouTube)

From one of the earliest Mountain Goats releases, the 1995 EP “Nine Black Poppies,” this passionately sung fan favorite lists a number of highly improbable events: “The Canterbury Tales” returning to the best-seller list, the narrator loving an old flame like he used to and, perhaps most improbably of all, the long-cursed Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. Twenty-one years after this song was released, they actually did it — though, contrary to Darnielle’s prophecy, it took the Cubs seven games. (Listen on YouTube)

One of the finest Mountain Goats songs in the last decade or so, this full-band standout from the 2012 album “Transcendental Youth” is an impressionistic snapshot of the last day in the life of Frankie Lymon, the precocious soprano who sang “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and died of a heroin overdose at age 25. The hook to this song is at once simple and devastating: “The loneliest people in the whole wide world are the ones you’re never going to see again.” (Listen on YouTube)

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