published: 31 /
In our Re:View section, in which our writers look back on albums from the past, Dan Cressey examines lo-fi act Mountain Goats' 2002 album 'All Hail West Texas', which has recently been reissued
'All Hail West Texas' is the album that defines the Mountain Goats, and to some extent overshadows everything that John Darnielle – the band's one constant – has done since.
The lowest of lo-fi, 'All Hail West Texas' has just Darnielle's guitar and keening voice. Its fourteen original songs were all recorded in one take on a boombox of dubious repair. Darnielle and his co-conspirators have gone on to embrace, if not lavish production, then at least working microphones and studios, but this album remains the touchstone for many fans.
Its subject matter too has come to exemplify for many people what Darnielle should sing about: messed up people in messed up places, most likely doing messed up things. Or, as the cover puts it: "fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys." And while Darnielle's songwriting has more recently covered subjects ranging from the Bible and H.P. Lovecraft, the loudest shouts at concerts are still generally in response to his songs about deadbeats of various kinds in run down American towns who are still somehow standing despite what life has hit them with.
Listening to 'All Hail West Texas', it is easy to see why. The starkness and immediacy of these alt-folk tales is undeniable. The exemplar of this is 'The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton', the story of a “couple of guys who'd been friends since grade school” and are now apparently plotting their revenge on the people who separated them. This frantic and defiant piece of outraged bitterness sets the tone for an album. You can try and guess if it is either Geoff or Cyrus who pop up later on as unnamed characters in drug dens, on motorcycles, in love, or out of love.
For this re-release, the album has been remastered from the reels the original cassettes were recorded onto when those fourteen songs were original mastered over a decade ago. They have not been made any less lo-fi, and the hum, fuzz and fuss is all there as it was before. In addition there are six new tracks from the same period, and one alternative version. Fundamentally though, this is still a stripped to the bone look at those seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys.
'All Hail West Texas' is a spectacular piece of song-writing and music. And it has only got better with age.