Trivia!: The album’s cover is a painting by swiss artist Anshelm Schultzberg: Walpurgis Night in Bergslagen, Grangärde in Dalarna and is a depiction of campfires spotting a dark valley during the celebration of Saint Walpurgis on the night before may day.
Dark in Here by small-town, folk klondikes, the Mountain Goats, wound up in our laps just nine months after their last album Getting Into Knives–each receiving 79 and 78 respectively on metacritic. Just at the dawn of the 2020 crisis and pandemic The Mountain Goats went straight to Sam C. Phillips Recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee to record Getting Into Knives-—and then right to another! Dark in Here was recorded at FAME studios in Alabama, which has shared company with music icons such as Etta James, Aretha Franklin, and the Allman Brothers Band, among others.
What we get with Dark in Here is something pretty warm. The upbeat opening track “Parisian Enclave” doesn’t immediately come off as a song about rats beneath the streets of Paris, but hey, we’ve all been there once. Darnielle’s prose have that charm to them, he might be talking about the deepest artificial hole on earth and it would appear as wholesome as a ditty about living well or doing a thankless job with quality anyway; and wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what we get with the second track on the album, “The Destruction of the Kola Superdeep Borehole Tower.” The tower itself was the machination of a Soviet project to see just how far into the crust we can bore, but was abandoned in 1995 after digging over 40,000 feet, and yet Darnielle’s prose managed to paint it not without some light. The entire album, in this way, can really be summed up with a hearty “I’m not crying, You’re crying!”
The musicality is also of surprising quality, tinting the rascally, heart-on-your-sleeve style folk with a somber “vienna jazz but bluegrass” quality. The quartet have really grown tight over the years and the addition of FAME studios’ musicians Spooner Oldham and Will McFarlane set “Mobile,” the album’s single, apart as one of the more memorable and classic tracks on the record. Several songs, however, such as “To The Headless Horseman” and “Before I Got There” lean more into a sauntering jazz than were used to seeing in Americana and folk music; It’s a wonderful touch that speaks to the bands versatility and professionalism.
The touching stories here really stick in your head, a quality Darnielle shares with the late David Berman, to whom the record’s penultimate track is dedicated. It’s a series of vividly picturesque vignettes set to fine, heartwarming music. This one really unfolds over subsequent listens. It feels, after a while, like returning to a familiar place, and when you get back there it’s accompanied by memories of where you were in your own little story when you’d last been listening. It’s like a little checkpoint, and we refer to it fondly. Adieu and thanks again Mountain Goats! We hope to hear from you again in another six months!