i will give up this house also, and his shape

geographical imaginations

Music produces space. Statement of the obvious, I know, but music plays a unique, often hidden, and sensuous role in place making, both physical and thematic. Get Lonely, of course, is about getting lost, and the very meaning of loneliness is spatial. As such, above all it is a music of place, of empty, lonely places. On this album space is a much a metaphor as a an actual lived landscape - spatialised, physical motifs and allusions abound throughout the album, so that John Darnielle might build up walls in which to lose himself, or trace a dreamlike (un)making of places that sound experienced and yet not quite there anymore.

Because space is as much about time as it is about place, and most of the scenes here seem like those from the past, always just behind us - that's slightly depressing, if somewhat relieving too. They are oddly detached tableaux, like we were looking at poorly projected super 8 stills scratched and dark. Yet still meticulously detailed. Building the most affective of occupied moments from the smallest suggestions, metonyms of a distinct geography of alienation, erasure and darkness. Dark highways "where unlucky stray dogs bleed"; hidden flowers on hillsides no one ever sees; half-light, empty streets; empty houses, morning chilled. So many empty houses, often in early morning, all closed in, looking out at winter weather.

Musically, the album eschews Darnielle's trademark frantic strumming that whacked around on The Sunset Tree, in favour of quieter band arrangements and even quieter string sections, at moments approaching the sepia-tones of Sodastream's softer work. The music is at times languid, lethargic even. The aural sense of a dark, stunted loss at the centre of the record.

The beginning drum pattern and steel shakes of New Monster Avenue remind me hugely of Grand Salvo, an artist who with the same sort of instrumentation seems to evoke a dusty, Australian desert. Here, however, these steely frames seem to produce nothing but an empty house: "shadows on the broad, canopy of trees / sometime after midnight, the ground is gonna freeze". Starkly insulated, there is no one here, even when people are there - the title track:
"I will rise up early and dress myself up nice
and I will leave the house and check the deadlock twice.
and I will find a crowd and blend in for a minute
and I will try to find a little comfort in it.
and I will get lonely and gasp for air.
and send your name up from my lips like a signal flare.
and I will go downtown, stand in the shadows of the buildings
and button up my coat, trying to stay strong, spirit willing.
and I will come back home, maybe call some friends,
maybe paint some pictures,
it all depends.
and I will get lonely and gasp for air.
and look up at the high windows, and see your face up there."

The sense of territory here is constantly uplifted, as Darnielle takes sad, slow migratory movements across and within each track, drifting through settings that never seem to settle (him). Not that it's so much a journey - one of the most affecting realisations of Get Lonely is that there is truly no narrative here, only incremental stumbles into different places, none more resolved than the last. A wandering, vagrant suspension in somewhere (nowhere?), lost and cold, frozen emotions.

Moon Over Goldsboro: "I lay down in the weeds, it was a real cold night / I was happy until the overnight attendant switched on the floodlight" - light as pain - all shades and shadows hurt here. "Frost on the sidewalk, white as a bone / Tried to get close to you again, always wake up alone". Ghosts.

"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."
From In the Hidden Places, an image that almost captures (and capture is the right word here) the kind of place Get Lonely takes you to, a harsh and hard place to be, one you only escape when the cd clicks off twelves songs later after In Corolla, where Darnielle and we finally disappear into the water's vertical horizon.

The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely

1 riffs:

El said...

This is such an incredibly beautiful piece, Lawson.. and although I'm not properly acquainted with Darnielle's lyricism (and quite possibly not qualified to say anything, yet again), I know what it is to draw and be drawn to such musical imaginings. It becomes that very distinct geographical landscape when the listener retreats to their imagination. While the landscape you paint here is so lonely and so desolate, it is still that beautiful and that fascinating. Similarly with my visual impression of Queen's early music - although I find their mythological landscapes just so breathtaking, there will always be that feeling of loneliness.. because as much as I can render such a vivid impression of this music and everything associated with it, no one else can see what I see and no one else can feel what I feel.