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Sunday, March 07, 2021

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Music Mondays: Getting Into Knives Album Review

<p><em>Graphic by YounHee Oh, The Collegian</em></p>

Graphic by YounHee Oh, The Collegian

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

John Darnielle is back with The Mountain Goats for their new album “Getting Into Knives,” and there is something about this album that oozes a playful sentimentality. The songs are decorated with simplicity, with bouncing acoustic guitars, minimalistic yet versatile percussion, and a savory organ that coats my eardrums in honey. 

The instrumentation is direct yet often fun, making the most out of what little they use and how straightforwardly they use them. Because of this, when a new instrument enters the mix such as the soaring trumpets on “Get Famous” and the serene xylophone of “Pez Dorado,” they bring with them a necessary and satisfying gleam of variance. 

Darnielle’s vocals glide alongside the instrumentation with a warm looseness that is casual yet deliberate, drawing from the feel of campfire folk songs but adding a professional quality to them. These qualities shine on the infectious album highlight “Picture of My Dress,” where the sunny acoustic guitar, piano chords, and Darnielle’s effortless vocal delivery combine to make it impossible not to gleefully bob your head and sing along.

On a few occasions, and especially within the second half of the tracks, the album departs from this warmth, like on “As Many Candles As Possible,” where the foreboding and mangled intro sets the mood for fuzzy guitars and atypically aggressive drumming and vocals. “The Last Place I Saw You Alive” similarly trades smiles for frowns with piano keys like teardrops and a lamenting horn texturing the background with nostalgic sorrow. Following “The Last Place I Saw You Alive” the album's playfulness becomes noticeably more subdued and the instrumentation is further stripped-back, almost as if the deep emotion of the tracks partially eclipsed the bright sun of the front-half.

Contrasting the typically cheery qualities of the album’s instrumentation, Darnielle’s lyrics are deceptively forlorn and cynical, adding a bitter-sweet quality to the more upbeat songs. “Get Famous”, for example, which on a passive listen is a triumphant and danceable tune, is really a sardonic criticism of the lust for fame, with Darnielle wishing fame upon someone while slyly warning of its curse with lines such as, “Shine like a cursed star, show everybody exactly who you are.” 

While songs like “Get Famous” separate the mood of the lyrics and instrumentation, on “The Last Place I Saw You Alive,” the pain is evident in all facets. On this track, Darnielle sings heart-wrenching lyrics about the dormant memory of a lost loved-one being evoked by seeing the last place he saw them alive. The lyrics discuss the effect that losing someone you love can have, with the line, “There’s a trillion things you left behind,” showing how despite the dead being gone, their legacy is still embedded within the living. 

Overall, although Getting Into Knives is not inventive by any stretch, it wears its simplicity like a crown. Instead of relying on hypercomplex instrumentation, the album focuses on conveying emotion through its lyricism and using the instruments as a backdrop for Darnielle’s witty and evocative songwriting. It is a great album both for easy, relaxing listens and introspective ones, deftly balancing the satisfaction of its listenability with its deeper message.

Contact contributor Zac Zibaitis at zac.zibaitis@richmond.edu.

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