The Mountain Goats - You & Me & A High Balcony | Track Review | By Volume

Understand that I am only as he made me: a faithful servant to all of the noise, all of the lights, all of the flashing in my head. Laura Stevenson - Wheel
MountainGoats

The Mountain Goats

You & Me & A High Balcony

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Author: on July 21, 2013

The wait between albums from The Mountain Goats is excruciating for super-fans such as myself, even taking into consideration the fact that John Darnielle’s writing/recording/touring cycle is remarkably quick (seven LPs alone in the past decade is no small feat). The quality of each record is nearly always top-tier, each one a newly detailed and intriguing glimpse into the endlessly creative mind of one of modern music’s lyrical geniuses. Darnielle’s discography is massive and overflowing with variety, and quite impossible to exhaust in the year and a half waiting for new releases. And yet we anxiously await new material like the spoiled, over-saturated music consumers that we are, the memory of 2012’s superb Transcendental Youth still fresh in our minds.

Well, “new” material hasn’t surfaced just yet, but Darnielle has unearthed some old dirt for us. Via Tumblr, he’s posted a previously unknown song from the We Shall All Be Healed sessions, apparently discovered on an old CD while “cleaning the office.” It’s an interesting relic for a number of reasons, partially due to the fact that it glows with the same sheen of the glorious 2000-2005 era, in which Darnielle was arguably at his peak, penning straightforward but devastating songs that sparkled with the sort of accessibility that won the band a significant increase in exposure during those years. Though the band had ditched the lo-fi aesthetic by this point, the buzz of the Panasonic boombox no longer perpetually present, “You & Me & A High Balcony” reaches back to the stripped-down approach of classic albums like The Coroner’s Gambit and All Hail West Texas. Just a lonely acoustic guitar accompanies Darnielle’s paranoid cries: “You and me… and a table set for three, just in case our assassin should finally come through,” he sings over a simple open-chord progression, the half-sensical ramblings of a meth head in a cheap motel room. It thematically relates to the story of We Shall All Be Healed in this way, but it seems to exist in its own isolated world. Likely it was rejected from the album not because of its quality, but because the fit wasn’t quite right. In Danrielle’s own words: “[It] is formally in a pretty different ballpark and it’s also not very personal, whereas the songs that did end up making We Shall All Be Healed marked my first steps toward writing from direct experience.”

For all these reasons, “You & Me & A High Balcony” is a unique gem in The Mountain Goats’ gigantic catalogue of narrative folk songs, existing in a world somewhere between the lo-fi and studio eras. On its own merits, attempting to remove the loaded context behind its recording and “release”, this song is yet another testament to the unrelenting genius of John Darnielle. Like many of his all-time great tracks, it relies on the simplest of musical structures, but the detailed narrative packed into its brisk three minutes could only captivate and astound his devoted fans. You’ve held us over for now, Darnielle. Now go make use of that newly clean office.

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