The Mountain Goats are an folk rock four piece from Claremont, CA. They’re infamous for their sharp wit, quirky lyricism, and ever evolving sound and while they’ve never really found massive commercial success, the group has been able build quite a devoted fanbase which is willing to dive headlong into every wacky sonic and conceptual twist and turn they take. They’ve released 16 full length LP’s, not to mention multiple EP’s, singles, and cassette-only releases over their 27 year career. With all this in mind, and after reading the message written along with this release in which frontman, John Darnielle commits himself once again to what he calls “the general spiritual realm of the EP,” I sat down to take in their newest EP, Hex of Infinite Binding, excited, but with an open mind.
The project opens with “Song for Ted Sallis,” a simple, Ben Folds-esque tune which is carried by what seems to be a bassoon, played masterfully by Matt Douglas. The lyrics tell the story of Theodore Sallis, an obscure Marvel Comics character perhaps slightly better known as Man-Thing. John Darnielle’s iconic vocal is as geeky and endearing as ever, though it could do with a few harmonies, and the “no skin like the skin you woke up in” refrain is catchy and effective.
“Almost Every Door,” follows and is, without a doubt, the best track on the EP. The woodwinds on this song, even more so than it’s predecessor, are written and performed expertly. The heartfelt ballad has a distinctly medieval tone, and the dancing piano which adorns the gaps in the string and woodwind leads adds infinite atmosphere to an already unique experience.
Turning up the tempo a bit and featuring the only true drum kit on the whole project, “Hospital Reaction Shot,” is based on a press conference given by Mickey Deans in 1969, informing the press of the death of his then wife, Judy Garland. While the instrumentation is relatively tame here, Darnielle’s lyrics take center stage with a stark mix of wit and tragic beauty. Lines like “There’s no kingdom, there’s no road,” and the “Gone down where the Goblins go,” refrain are genuine and moving, and thanks to excellent delivery and a few well placed backing vocals, this is yet another great track.
We close with “Tucson Frog,” a basic, up-beat tune which is anchored by a driving acoustic guitar and a scarce but present violin. This is a relatively underwhelming finish, though it features a very fun chord progression and quite a bit of passion in the poorly recorded guitar chords. It’s an interesting end to a solid project.
Of course, this EP is not perfect, as so few are, but I’m interested in what it may represent. If John Darnielle and the rest of The Mountain Goats are serious about returning to the EP spirit, I am more than happy to settle in for a long series of manic, experimental folk-rock collections like this one.
Hex of Infinite Binding is fun, unique, and most importantly, infinitely listenable.
HEAR HEX OF INFINITE BINDING: https://open.spotify.com/album/1MbrGdr3eLlzIZs4xW5CIZ