[ed. note: if you didn't see this coming, well ... I must not have talked about it enough. No one had the guts to guess except Chad! His #1 was M. Ward's "Post-War," which is a great album even though it didn't make my list.]
The Mountain Goats
When the villagers come to my door,
I’ll be all tucked away with my face to the floor and my eyes closed.
And no one knows how to keep secrets ’round here;
they tell everyone everything, soon as they know.
And then where is there for poor sinners to go?
If John Darnielle’s Alpha saga were actually a Campbellian monomyth, “Get Lonely” would be the moment that the hero emerges from the underworld, rubbing his eyes against the light. He has spent a long time in the underworld and fought many evils, but has emerged triumphant, with a new vision of himself. He’s a hero … isn’t he?
He asks passersby what year it is, and they name a date at least a hundred years in the future. Everything has changed; people don’t greet him the same way; the language is faster and the weather is colder. When he walks down the street, he can feel the looks like bugs on his skin. Eventually he goes outside only when he needs to; then he starts staying inside all the time. He’s waiting for something — he just doesn’t know what. It will probably be bad, though.
Saw you on the crosstown bus today.
You were reading a magazine.
I turned my face away and I shut my eyes tight
and dreamed about the flowers that hide from the light
on dark hillsides
in the hidden places.
I feel sorry for those people that dismissed “Get Lonely” because it didn’t drip with vitriol like “the Sunset Tree” — they missed the point so hard. This isn’t an album that lashes out, smacking at enemies in that self-centered teenage way. Instead it’s grown up, sadder but wiser, and its protagonist alternates between noticing the smallest details of his new world and crawling inside himself to cry in a metaphorical corner. Darnielle’s creation is as flawed as the rest of us — maybe more so — and so his loneliness alternates between the hope of “Woke Up New,” which [gets] ready for the future to arrive, and the bleak resignation of waiting for exposure in “New Monster Avenue”:
Greenhouse full of butcher’s broom, breezes at my back.
Some time before the sun comes up, the earth is gonna crack.
I look down at my hands, like they were mirrors.
Fresh coffee at sunrise, warm my lips against the cup.
Been waiting such a long time now, my number’s finally coming up.
All the neighbors come on out to their front porches, waving torches.
The lyrics go around and around in circles, a man saying his prayers every morning with a whip. Memories become overwhelming: spend all night in the company of ghosts, always wake up alone. The listener reaches the conclusion that maybe the solution was just as bad as the problem. Now the hero is alone, having shed his worst enemy, but he has gotten lonely. And lonely is like the island in Narnia where all your dreams come true — you thought you knew what you were asking for, but it turns out that what you asked for wants to eat you, whole.
On the last track, “In Corolla,” the hero sinks into a swamp — literal or metaphoric, it doesn’t really matter — unable to leave behind the past, unable to enter the future.
And no one was gonna come and get me.
There wasn’t anybody gonna know.
Even though I leave a trail of burnt things in my wake
every single place I go.
Because he is an extraordinary writer, Darnielle must have known that he couldn’t top bitterness with bitterness. If poetry doesn’t evolve and move on, it dies. “Get Lonely” is evolution, beautifully chronicled in all its stark pain. Best album of 2006, I salute you.
[see Best of 2006 for more]