Monday, November 30, 2009

regarding Ted Leo's new album

Check out for a free download of "Even Heroes Have to Die," off of Ted Leo and The Pharmacists' upcoming The Brutalist Bricks. The band's Matador debut drops March 9 (2010, the future!). The song's solid. It's not Leo's best work, but it's still Ted freaking Leo. That guy wrote Hearts of Oak but somehow has no ego about it whatsoever. I wish I could say I was going to hit up his show at the First Unitarian Church Dec. 2, but fate has conspired against me. By which I mean I've got training at my new place of employment, Whole Foods Market.

regarding Trent Reznor's gear.

Since Nine Inch Nails is done as a touring unit, Trent Reznor is now selling a ton of equipment on eBay and old tour merch on his Web site. In other words, he's cleaning house. It'd be cool to get that NIN zip-up, but I'd rather have one of T-Rez's guitars. So, if you have lots of dollars, like thousands of them given how high the bidding has already gone, and an unhealthy love of Pretty Hate Machine, now's the time to make some financially questionable life decisions.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Mountain Goats and Final Fantasy at the Theater of Living Arts

John Darnielle of indie/folk masters the Mountain Goats seems to have a fondness for Philadelphia. He writes for metal mag Decibel, which is printed in Philly. Goats drummer Jon Wurster is from the area. He commands a fanatic cult, but isn’t afraid to play smaller venues like the North Star Bar or local college campuses. And when he does falter live, as any human is bound to eventually do, he makes up for it tenfold. So, obviously, the guy was gonna put on a great show for fans when he hit the TLA Sat., Nov. 28 with Final Fantasy. That’s pretty much a given. But the exact way he would do it – mixing crowd pleasers and deep cuts, playing some songs astonishingly softly for such a medium-sized venue while also going louder than he ever has before – could never be predicted.

See, the Goats have a lot of songs. Fansite counts 525. The band has such a wealth of tunes that Darnielle is able to pull out obscure songs whenever he wants, much to superfans’ delight. That alone ensures that most Goats shows are unique. Throw in the band’s tendency to perform songs with their tourmates, as well the Goats’ recent swelling to a four-piece with the addition of guitarist Perry Wright (The Prayers & Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers; check out The Mother of Love Emulates the Shapes of Cynthia sometime), and the uniqueness of each performance is that much more assured. Nov. 28 was no exception.

The night began with Final Fantasy, a.k.a. violinist/vocalist Owen Pallett. Accompanied by a guitarist/percussionist, Pallett crafted polyphonic wonders using his violin, a keyboard, and enough loop pedals to fight whatever apocalyptic future awaits us. Calling his music orchestral pop doesn’t sound quite right since A) we’re talking about a one-man orchestra, B) Pallett’s tunes have a lot of dance and pop elements, and C) dude is too funny to be pigeonholed. The guy’s classical background shows – he’s clearly talented – but he didn’t come off as pompous while discussing his music at all. Ditto for when he called out some obnoxious, talkative non-listeners, wryly saying, “Were you guys talking this whole time? I didn’t notice because I was so into the music.” Overall, Pallett put on an entertaining show. I anticipate his upcoming 2010 record, Heartland.

By Pallett’s own admission, opening for the Mountain Goats is intimidating given his fervent fanbase (of which I consider myself a member). Pallett’s set wrapped up by 9:50 p.m., and by 10:10 I was losing my patience. I needed a Goats fix. When the houselights dimmed at 10:15, the crowd, and me, collectively lost its shit. The Goats hit the stage and tore into…

Wait, I don’t know this song. How do I not know this song? I just listened to 18 hours of TMG tunes. I should know this song. Think, think. This song is so awesome, with its boisterous arrangement. Wurster looks like he’s having such a great time. They’re singing about handball. How many Goats songs are about that?

That’s right, the Mountain Goats opened with “Hand Ball,” originally from the compilation Our Salvation is in Hand, later compiled on the rarities collection Protein Source of the Future...Now!. They did it with a full band too, which shows how much Wurster has integrated into Darnielle and bassist Peter Hughes’ dynamic. Darnielle has always had a knack for loud acoustic ditties – have you heard “Cubs in Five?” – but Wurster and Wright pushed that aspect harder on songs like “Palmcorder Yajna,” “This Year,” and “See America Right.” “Romans 10:9,” one of the poppier songs from new album Life of the World to Come, turned out surprisingly, wonderfully heavy. It was perhaps my favorite performance of the night. Of the five times I’ve seen the Mountain Goats, this was their most rocking set.

Of course, an ebb and flow can do plenty for a live show. The Goats added softer songs like “Deuteronomy 2:10” and Life outtake “Enoch 18:14,” after which Darnielle went solo for a bit, knocking out obscurities like a so-far-unreleased cover of the Chiffons’ “One Fine Day,” “From TG&Y,” and “Song for Dana Plato,” all of which went over well with the crowd. After that, Darnielle went even deeper with “Going to Michigan” by the Extra Glenns, a band he was in with Nothing Painted Blue frontman Franklin Bruno. Pallett came out to play the guitar part from “Going to Bristol” on his violin, and it was good. Damn good. There was a bit of respect and nerd love between the two performers, as Pallett would come back for performances of “Hebrews 11:40,” “This Year,” and “No Children.”

The rest of the band came out to wrap up the regular set, concluding with rabblerousers “See America Right” and “This Year.” “This Year” gets a little bit louder and faster every time I see it live, which, given that it’s one of the most beloved, best TMG songs, is always welcome.

After a two-song encore of “Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace,” which featured Hughes’ bass at its heaviest, and “No Children,” I felt ever so slightly disappointed. See, I interviewed Darnielle a little while ago via e-mail. He dodged a few of my questions, one of which was a show request for his cover of “Dirty Old Town,” as my girlfriend and I have a lot of memories attached to that song. Since Darnielle didn’t outright shoot me down, I wondered, nay hoped, that maybe he really would play the song. He didn’t. But then the band came out for a second encore and played a full band version of “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” which is, scientifically speaking, the greatest Mountain Goats song of all time. Some people might say “Going to Georgia” (which I’ve heard live, suckaz) or “Going to Maine,” but those people are wrong, and perhaps even insane. The show opened to strains of Dio and closed with raised fists and shouts of “Hail Satan!” Decibel, and a lot of Philly’s Mountain Goats fans, would’ve been proud.

Set list

Hand Ball
Old College
Palmcorder Yajna
Romans 10:9
Deuteronomy 2:10
Enoch 18:14

One Fine Day (Chiffons cover, went solo)
From TG&Y
Song for Dana Plato
Going to Michigan (Extra Glenns cover)
Going to Bristol (with Owen Pallett)

Hebrews 11:40 (back to full band with OP)
Psalms 40:2
Song for Dennis Brown
See America Right
This Year (with OP)

Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace
No Children (with OP)

The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vinyl Vednesday 11/25

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it kinda is. E-mail with your own big finds! Since Thanksgiving is this week, I thought I’d discuss three of my all-time favorite records, not that I don’t love my vinyl collection in general. Gratitude abounds.]

Records: Jawbreaker’s Dear You (1995) on baby blue marble, The Mountain Goats’ Zopilote Machine (1994) on black, and X’s Los Angeles (1980) on black with media kit.

Place of Purchase: Zopilote Machine and Los Angeles were purchased on eBay. Dear You was a present from my girlfriend. She’s awesome.

Thoughts: My copy of Dear You on baby blue marble vinyl is my favorite record. There, now you know that every future installment of Vinyl Vendnesday will be a lie. But dang it all, it was a really cool present, ya dig? And it plays perfectly! The cover’s a little worn, but I’ve always been a sucker for those sort of lived-in qualities. It makes me feel connected to something. Dear You is my favorite Jawbreaker record. I love those dark, swirling chords and depressing lyrics. Yet as down as songs like “Accident Prone” or “Jet Black” get, I get a little giddy about being able to tap into that world whenever I want. This is one of those albums I’ll start singing along to without realizing it.

I’m the sort of music nerd who wants to get every record my favorite artists have ever put out on vinyl. Being a Mountain Goats fan, that’s probably going to be impossible, but every once in a while, I score a big find. I lucked into a copy of Zopilote Machine on vinyl, featuring one of the Goats’ best songs, “Going to Georgia.” The price wasn’t too steep, and it’s easily the oldest TMG release I own on wax. I’m not going to argue that it sounds better in this format – it’s still just a guy with a guitar and a boom box – but it’s still nice to have and pretty to look at.

I made a decent amount of money temping, which I promptly squandered on an eBay addiction. Having been an X fan since high school, I decided to double-up my collection by getting their best albums on vinyl. Los Angeles is one of my favorite X records, channeling old rock ‘n’ roll riffs through a punk perspective. The best punk bands secretly knew how to play their instruments, as Los Angeles shows, and the quartet still puts on a great show. I was particularly excited to get this album on vinyl, as it was a promo version with a lengthy media kit. My copy came with glossy photos, Xeroxed newspaper reviews, and a neat folder to hold it all. It’s pretty cool.

The Besties - 'Home Free'

There’s never enough time to appreciate all the good bands while they’re around. I didn’t get into the Mescaleros until Joe Strummer was already dead. I didn’t get into Discount until Alison Mosshart became too cool for pop-punk. Now, I find myself wishing I’d heard about indie rock band The Besties in time. See, they dropped a nifty full-length this year called Home Free. It’s reminiscent of poppy acts like Juliana Hatfield, Del Cielo, Lemonheads, and maybe even Belly. Do kids still listen to those bands? Yes? No? OK, fine. Lemuria. They sound like Lemuria, only lighter. This record makes my ears high-five my brain. Clearly, I should be happy. Instead, I know only remorse. You see, The Besties are breaking up.

They’re breaking up hella soon too. Their last show is Dec. 6 with The Specific Heats and Bunnygrunt at some place in Brooklyn called Bruar Falls. It’s not fair, I tells you. There was time now! Time to skip through meadows with pretty pop tunes like “M.F.D. (for Mat Pat)” and “79 Lorimer” in my heart. Ah, but alas and/or alack! All I have to remember The Besties by is Home Free (and some other releases). Somehow, I will have to move on. I’m assuming they’d want me to choose life.

Home Free is a mighty fine collection of 11 catchy tunes. Admittedly, its second half is stronger, not that there’s anything wrong with the opening tracks. Tunes like “The Gothenburg Handshake” and “What Would Tim Armstrong Do?” are enchanting with their blend of keys, guitars, and bouncy melodies. But from “M.F.D.” through closer “79 Lorimer,” it’s all hits ahead. The hooks get more infectious, the melodies more lush, and even the instruments seem brighter. The lyrics all deal with relationships, money problems, and the band life, which are all appealing topics. In short, Home Free is a keeper, even if the band that wrote it is going away.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NOFX - 'Cokie the Clown'

Let it not be said that NOFX was ever a stingy band. Just a scant seven months after releasing the solid full-length Coaster, the band is back with four new songs, plus an acoustic rendition of Coaster’s emotional highlight, “My Orphan Year.” Furthermore, the band is dishing out the songs on two different formats: one CD entitled Cokie the Clown, or two separately sold, variously colored, differently sequenced seven-inches named Cokie the Clown and My Orphan Year. Got it? This is America, dammit, the land of 43 kinds of peanut butter because you deserve it. Crunchiness and smoothness must be regulated at all times or morale will drop and the terrorists will smirk!

The Cokie the Clown seven-inch and CD both open with the title track, a lovely ditty about a fairly awful clown. It’s in the traditional NOFX punk rock vein with a circus music intro. Based on the lyrics – “You all have been dosed / The kettle corn’s been laced / The fudge has been lined” – Natalia Fabia’s terrifying/awesome cover captures the character’s spirit perfectly.

After that ditty, the vinyl and CD switch up tracklistings, so here’s a rundown on the CD version. “Straight Outta Massachusetts” is a super catchy 77-second about moving from one U.S. coast to the other. “Fermented and Flailing” takes aim at the American populace that allowed their country, from its government to its corporations to its own citizens, to perform a few dozen atrocities. “Codependence Day” should be familiar to anyone who purchased the Warped Tour 2009 Tour Compilation.

An acoustic version of “My Orphan Year” closes out the CD, and it still hits hard. Fat Mike talks about losing both of his parents in 2006. It was a painful story about cancer, loving mothers and bad fathers on Coaster, and that goes double for the acoustic version. There’s no rocking to hide the loss of his mother, and his disdain for his father now sounds like it’s coming from a place of resignation rather than anger. Given that he wrote “My Vagina,” it’s sometimes too easy to forget that Fat Mike can write a hard-hitting tune too.

At 11 minutes, the CD goes by quickly. At this point, listeners should know what to expect from a NOFX release, and while Cokie the Clown won’t blow minds, it should be please the faithful.

Friday, November 20, 2009

regarding Jason Segel.

Jason Segel recently performed a hi-larious new song with The Swell Season (see above). He promises one lucky Swell Season's fan a night of passionate love-making, going so far as to make his phone number the chorus. And what a chorus! So catchy. I need to find an mp3 of it.

I love Jason Segel. Dude was awesome in Freak and Geeks, he put in great supporting roles in SLC Punk and Knocked Up, and he killed it in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and How I Met Your Mother. Part of his charm lies in his musicianship - his "Lady L" from Freaks and Geeks was deliciously uncomfortable, and "Dracula's Lament" was one of the best songs of 2008. I kid you not. He didn't write the below number from How I Met Your Mother, but he did perform it with gusto. Which reminds me, HIMYM needs to drop a soundtrack sometime.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vinyl Vednesday 11/18

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it kinda is. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: Alkaline Trio’s Goddamnit rerelease (2008) on grey marble with an alternate cover, David Bowie’s Space Oddity rerelease (1972) on black with an alternate cover, and Hüsker Dü’s Candy Apple Grey (1986) on black with, um, a normal cover?

Place of Purchase: Goddamnit was purchased at Hot Topic in Montgomeryville. Space Oddity was the first vinyl record I ever bought, at Legends in Plymouth Meeting (R.I.P.). Candy Apple Grey came from Hideaway Music in Chestnut Hill. They specialize in classic rock and jazz, so anytime they get an underground rock record, they price it to move, which is awesome for me. Also, everyone reading this knows I live in southeastern Pennsylvania, right?

Thoughts: I went a little bass ackwards when it came to experiencing Alkaline Trio. They didn’t hit my radar until From Here to Infirmary; didn’t bother checking them out until my roommate Eric made me buy Maybe I’ll Catch Fire in like 2005. The last Alk3 release I purchased was Goddamnit. Holy crap, I totally get why people love this album. These are some zesty tunes about drunken sexcapades (or lack thereof), I tell you what. “Clavicle” is such a sweet song. This is Chicago punk at its finest (Lawrence Arms notwithstanding). I’m kind of bummed the cover came in such questionable condition, but I’ll deal.

I was a decent-sized Bowie fan in high school, in that I loved Labyrinth and Changesbowie. After I got my first record player senior year, I decided to start exploring Bowie’s discography further. I figured I’d start with Space Oddity because, well, I liked “Space Oddity” a lot. Those hand claps are awesome. Time would reveal that it probably wasn’t the best starting point, but I think Space Oddity is still a pretty underrated Bowie record from his brief psych-folk period. Sometimes he gets a little too needlessly wordy, but jams like “Janine” and “God Knows I’m Good” are keepers. I think my favorite track, though, is the closer, “Memory of a Free Festival.” It’s a lengthy recounting of a festival Bowie attended. It’s pretty free love-y, but by the time the band hits the refrain – “The sun machine is comin’ down and we’re gonna have a party” – I don’t care. I have always wanted to cover this song.

Side note: I really miss Legends. It was a comics store in the Plymouth Meeting Mall that also sold games of the RPG and CCG variety, as well as records. The prices could be a little debatable at times, but the quality was always good. And they sold indie comics! It brings me to tears (TEARS!) that small suburbanite children aren’t reading Hate or The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.

Hüsker Dü is a band I got into pretty much because every music critic ever told me to. Sometimes those folks are right. My introduction to the band came via Zen Arcade, but I’ve always found Candy Apple Grey to be more palatable. That’s probably because it was the band’s major label debut. Where Zen was all about being sonically punishing, Candy combined melancholy lyrics with catchy hooks, as illustrated by the single “Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely.” I get a bit of an Elvis Costello vibe, especially on tracks like “Dead Set on Destruction” and “Sorry Somehow.” This record is perfect from start to finish, although I do often find myself skipping to “Hardly Getting Over It” quite a bit. Saddest song to sing to yourself while drunk? Ebyam.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dig It Up - 'Magnets'

I’m kind of in love with Canada. Their Kit-Kats taste different. Their side of Niagara Falls has a WWE store (also, a better view). They invented the Canadarm (I calls it a space claw), hockey, and John K. Samson. So it makes sense that I’d be attracted to the folks in Dig It Up. On their new EP Magnets, the band tears through five furious punk tunes in under 20 minutes.

Of course, my throbbing Canuck fetish wouldn’t apply if Dig It Up didn’t write good songs. They do. Their stuff is loose ‘n’ frenetic – think The Bronx, Cloak/Dagger, or Lost City Angels. It’s not quite Black Flag-ian, but I’m sure the five members own at least one copy of Damaged. Maybe two.

“Oh No!” is the shortest tune of the bunch (1:19), but it makes a strong opening argument for the band’s sound. Basically, they work the title in a couple times, throw in raw, crunchy guitar parts a lot, and then sprinkle in a dash of “Hey”s. It’s like they measured out the exact amounts of awesomeness to grab your attention (probably in metric, a unit of measurement I maintain is witchcraft). “A Thousand Words” is almost twice as long but just as rocking.

From there, the EP hits listeners with three songs in the four minutes and change vicinity, which is admittedly a little lengthy for the style. Still, these are energetic party songs for punks, and any critical statements stem more from observation than actual complaint. Border patrol and anti-Americanism can’t stop me from enjoying Magnets. Oh, Canada

Monday, November 16, 2009

True Widow - 'True Widow'

Between the 13th Floor Elevators and the Secret Machines, I’m convinced that the drugs must be great in Texas. I may one day add True Widow to that list as well. The band’s self-titled debut sports slow, sludgy tunes to that do to Autolux what Black Sabbath did to metal, namely, remove any semblance of blues or danceablility.

Admittedly, the album’s hour-long running time gets a bit too recycled near the end. True Widow is plodding and melancholy and haunting all the time, and the songs kind of blur together after a while. But in smaller doses, the record proves to be a solid collection of doom and/or gloom. The band definitely recalls Autolux whenever bassist Nicole Estill takes over mic duties, while frontman/lead songwriter Dan Phillips recalls the Seattle sound from the late ’80s/early ’90s. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a few Soundgarden albums in his record collection, although I should stress that True Widow is much, much slower than your average “Jesus Christ Pose.”

Still, it’s not half-bad. The record definitely comes off well with opener “AKA.” The M.O. is right there from the get-go with this stoned-out, sludgy jam fest. About halfway through the album, the sixth track “Flat Back” switches up the formula a bit by actually having pep. Yeah, it’s crazy.

I don’t mean to sound redundant, but True Widow is a spacey record, plain and/or simple. It’s there in the druggy vocals of, say, “All You Need.” It’s certainly there in every guitar texture contained throughout. It shows potential for something greater, perhaps a How It Feels To Be Something On-style prog-rock explosion, Z-esque country, or a Future Perfect shoegazer. As is, True Widow is a decent album from a band still in fresh from its formation.

The Tunnel - 'Carver Brothers Lullaby'

I’m gonna throw out some band comparisons to give you an idea of what The Tunnel’s Carver Brothers Lullaby sounds like, but I want you to add the words “…only crappy” after each name, OK? Here goes: early Modest Mouse, Gordon Gano from Violent Femmes, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Yeah, The Tunnel definitely has a thing for ’70s punk of the artsy, snarling variety, but the duo of Patrick Crawford and Jeff Wagner (now augmented by third member Josh Layton) lacks bite.

Still, I’ll give the band some credit. They clearly went in with a concept, bookending the album with moody sound experiments. The print job is nice. It’s just those blasted tunes that fall short. Blame it on Wagner’s vocals, which tend to over-emote in any given direction. This guy seriously wants to combine Gano’s whine with Reed’s eloquence, but it just doesn’t click. Dude sounds wounded on songs like “Like a Hungry Knife” and “Your Veins,” but in a totally laughable way.

Unappealing vocals can be a dealbreaker for any band and, given the duo’s sparse arrangements, Wagner’s voice is definitely a mortal wound. Crawford is a decent drummer, but Wagner, yet again, comes off as a letdown on the guitar front. He’s either strumming or messing around with lackluster, meandering bits, never quite hitting that menacing tone struck by Blank Generation or Horses. The whole record is repetitive, neither compelling nor catchy.

I’d discuss the ho-hum lyrics, but by that point most people will have already tuned out The Tunnel. Considering all of the seminal protopunk albums out there, Carver Brothers Lullaby is disappointingly redundant.

Castevet - 'Summer Fences'

Know what’s a great feeling? When you fall so in love with a record that you forget how long you’ve been listening to it. I’ve spent the last week and a half spinning Summer Fences, the new-ish record by atmospheric indie band Castevet. Every time I think I have a bead on what I’m going to write about the album, I end up just playing it again instead. It’s an appealing blend of ferocious hardcore and moody post-rock.

Opening track “Between Berwyn and Bryn Mawr” grabbed the attention of this Pennsylvania native right away, although I’m sure the band is talking about some other place. As intro tracks go, it’s kind of like a thesis statement, in that Castevet lets the listener know exactly what they’re about to do. For a second, the band sounds like another Hot Water Music/Planes Mistaken for Stars clone, but that notion is quickly dismissed. My gut tells me these guys are more reminiscent of spacier fare like Envy, Appleseed Cast, and maybe Mogwai, just filtered through a Latterman-esque punk rock viewpoint. It’s gruff vocals and seductive guitar textures ahoy.

While the band successfully takes a stab at shorter song constructions on “Plays One on TV,” Castevet is at its most successful when it opens up to more expansive ideas. Six out of the album’s eight songs surpass the five-minute mark (“Stranger You Know” comes close at 4:50), and two of those go beyond seven minutes. “I Know What a Lion Is,” a delightfully swirling and soothing song, achieves some epic dynamics. It perfectly segues into “Stranger You Know” – the ebb and flow on this record is incredible.

Throw in a few humorous song titles (“Space Jam (The Return),” “Evil Robot With Swords For Hands”), and Summer Fences is memorable on every level. The guitar tones are perfect for these fall months, when things get colder and more contemplative. Not that Summer Fences is any way a downer record. The music is fairly uplifting and rocking, just coupled with super pretty instrumental parts. It’s an easy record to get lost in.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Interview: John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats)

[I've been sitting on this article for about a month. Now that has finally run it, I'm happy to introduce to you my interview with John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. It was a huge honor to talk to the guy, even if it was from the awkward distance of e-mail.]

For almost 20 years, the Mountain Goats have been turning out literate, evocative folk-rock. Their latest album, The Life of the World to Come, is among their best yet, coupling religious images with stories both personal and fictional. It's their, I believe, 434th full-length release, and the group shows no signs of artistic fatigue. I was able to secure some talking time with frontman John Darnielle during a break from touring, via e-mail. He was awfully coy in places - especially when I asked him some questions about his appearance on The Colbert Report - but pretty open on others. Here now are his thoughts on touring, Barbara Streisand, anniversary shows, and the Bible.

Hi. Hey. Hello. How are you?

I'm doing great! Got home from a short European tour the other day and have been working in the kitchen ever since, I really love to cook and bake so it's good times for me right now.

How long did it take you to write the songs for The Life of the World to Come? Did you decide going in to incorporate the Bible for every song, or did the idea spring itself on you? How did reacting to the Bible affect your lyric choices, as of opposed to, say, discussing your relationship with your stepfather in The Sunset Tree?

It sort of came together gradually throughout 2008, and by early '09 I was well into it - first there was this song on the Black Pear Tree EP, "Supergenesis," which was the first Bible-related song I'd written in a while, and I noticed while I was writing it that it kind of woke me up in a way other writing wasn't - I used to write a lot more Bible-driven songs, way way back when in the cassette days. So, around the same time, I wrote "1 John 4:16," and it was a pretty emotional song for me, and I thought, there's something going on here - keep looking at this. And then I learned about a Biblical translation I hadn't known anything about, Young's Literal Translation, and I get pretty excited when I think about translation generally speaking, really inspired. So at that point I was kind of off to the races.

You described your new album as 12 hard lessons the Bible taught you. “Matthew 25:21,” “Philippians 3: 20-21,” “Hebrews 11:40,” and “Isaiah 45:23” all deal with declining health. Are they all about your mother-in-law? Other people? Care to explain their meanings? How did the Bible help you deal with loss?

I try to avoid doing too much "here's what this song is about" stuff with songs, because once a song's writer does that, it kind of puts the song into a coffin and nails the lid shut - no more fun playing with this song and its meanings, listener: the Author has spoken, nothing more to see here, keep movin'! At the same time, I like to be a good sport, so I'll take one: "Philippians 3:20-21" isn't about anybody I knew personally - it's for David Foster Wallace, whose work I don't even know that well but who had such a profound and positive effect on so many people, who was one of those guys about whom, when you get exposed to how he thinks about people and their essential eventual goodness, you think, man, if there were a God, God would have to like this dude, because this dude is so full of goodness and love of life and love for other people, compassion for their struggles, insight into both the good and the bad about people, into the raw humanity that makes the whole world hum. So then he goes and hangs himself, and you think, you know, how could a kind God not give a guy like that the basic equipment needed - the right brain chemistry, I mean - to be able to even bear being alive? You know what I mean? Suicide, the fact that people get to that point of total despair and hopelessness at all, that's like the harshest interrogation of the concept of the Christian God there is. Born-again types have a very simplistic explanation of the whole thing that involves cartoonish concepts like tempting demons and so on, but of course that shit is just infantile. How could a merciful and benevolent and loving God create a good, talented, giving person with a time bomb in his head? How can a good God unleash Hell inside a good man's head? This has troubled me since I worked in mental health. Naturally, if you're an atheist, this one's easy, unless you're a more creative atheist who's able to say "OK, let's posit 'God': how do things work if we do that?" Unfortunately we kind of don't live in a time when people are really able to do a lot of "if x then y" thinking, which in my opinion is what punk rock was all about in the first place, but that's another subject.

What kind of reaction have the new songs gotten so far?

Pretty good I think! I think people hear that this is a pretty emotional record, for me, and I think for the band too - that there's something at the core of it that's kind of freshly-wounded and raw, something physical in the feeling we're going for.

Would you describe yourself as spiritual or religious? What are the top three things you’d change about the Catholic Church, if given carte blanche? What does the Bible mean to you?

These last two questions would require a little more space than I can really stretch out for, but - I mean, yeah, I'm as spiritual as a person who's not sure there's any such thing as "spirit" can be. I think I know what people mean when they describe their "spirit," whether that's actually a construct within one's personality or the essential part of one's self that you share with the world (or not) - the part of you that's uniquely you, that either never dies or which dies forever when you do - I think there is such a thing as that, whether it's an eternal thing or just the most adamantine aspect of your personality. And I think it's an important thing, that concept of The You Which Is Uniquely You. The Church - I mean - part of its charm is its resistance to change. I am not a practicing Catholic though I do go to Church sometimes - I can't call myself Catholic because I don't believe what they believe, but I think it's kind of lame for me to say to the Church "you must change!" in order to please me. I am free to worship or not as I see fit; if the Church doesn't share my beliefs, no-one's forcing me to stay in it. The whole question is a lot more complicated than that, obviously, because of cultural identity (esp. heavy with Catholicism) and how one thinks about doctrine (fluid or rigid? dogmatic or descriptive?), but I think at the end of the day I'm kind of Old School Catholic, which means I don't think the Church should change its teachings to make anybody happy. The Church should be who she is. If over time the Church's understanding of dogma becomes more inclusive of more people, then I think that's great, but the Church isn't the scene or anything. It doesn't have to change for anybody, and it kind of shouldn't.

How has having a steady three-piece affected your songwriting? I know you’ve been playing with Peter Hughes for a while, but do you write differently knowing that Jon Wurster will be around for tours? How much do Peter and Jon contribute to the music overall?

The songwriting process stays essentially the same, though we have tried a thing or two that involved writing the song in the studio - not the lyrics; the lyrics I write in solitude, usually, even if it's the dug-out solitude of whatever corner I can find in a dressing room. Peter and Jon write their parts and the songs grow and change in response to what they see and hear and feel in the skeleton I bring to the table - I write the chords and the melodies and the words, but there's more to a song than that stuff, and the "more" is what they do: sort of putting muscle and skin and spirit into the bones.

You’ve been known to put out high quality vinyl. All of your 4AD stuff has stayed in print, and you’ve released some incredible tour-only vinyl and color variants. What’s your favorite record find and why?

I am more of a pack-rat than a "seek out essential items" dude but this very, very obscure midwestern vanity pressing thing by a band called the Cause that my wife and I found at the Ajax store in Chicago years ago, when we were first dating - that's a huge find, because it's very much its own off-in-space thing. I have a near-complete original run of Man is the Bastard vinyl, much of it bought directly from Wood himself, I take some pride in that. Especially the Born Against split 8", one of my favorite records ever.

Could you talk about your experience on The Colbert Report? Do you get a lot of TV requests?

What can I tell you - it was fun, we enjoyed ourselves!

Is there anyone left on your short list for collaborations? Perhaps a Boz Scaggs duet?

Mostly classical musicians right now - I have a whole lot of ideas for strings and I am hoping to work more with Miranda Cuckson. I would like to work with the choreographer Trisha Brown - would like to write music for her to choreograph. That's a dream though, she's a titan in her field. Me singing with Boz wouldn't be a very good idea, I don't think. He is a truly great singer whom I admire tremendously. I'm good at what I do, but I'm not in his league. Like, at all.

Call it now: What is the best Mountain Goats record? What’s your favorite song to perform? Have you ever thought about performing an album in its entirety? Maybe do an All Hail West Texas tribute when it turns 10, or teach your newer fans the wonders of Sweden?

Well, OK, this is five questions - taking them more or less in order: my favorite record is always the new one, which is not because it's the one being promoted, but because I'm always most interested in what's newest, what's freshest - I mostly lose interest in an album once I've moved on to the next one, I sort of say "here are the songs I loved best from that record and here's what I learned how to do from writing them and playing them and recording them and touring with them, living with them" and then move along, keep goin'. Swim, shark, or die! you know? So, my favorite stuff is the newest songs that nobody's heard yet, and my second favorite is the new album, and after that -- I don't know; I mean, I have an affection for The Sunset Tree because it's meant a lot to a lot of people, and that means a lot to me, and it was hard to write, so I got something from the whole process. And I'm super proud that with Get Lonely, we did what we felt instead of trying to do "Sunset Tree II" or anything - we followed our hearts and I'm proud of doing that and of the record we made. I have no interest at all in doing a pat-self-on-back thing like presenting an old album in its entirety, to me that's "hi I'm an old man now dwelling on past glories," fuck that in my opinion, no disrespect to anybody who's into it. OK maybe a little disrespect because seriously, art is about growth, not K-Tel commercials for the great hits from when life was simpler and we were all in high school. I don't go to anybody's "playing their classic album" shows, I hate the whole concept, it's like very major label Las Vegas. Though I would go see Streisand do Je M'Appelle Barbra but that's different because it's a whole different world. I don't think good rock music should be about ideas like "classic." The idea is keeping it new.

You’ve dropped so many more non-full-length tracks since your trio of rarities compilations in 2002. Any thoughts on doing another rarities collection?

There really isn't any point in doing a rarities collection now that everything's free, I don't think. Back when we started putting together the three singles comps, people who really wanted to hear those songs couldn't, or had to work super-hard to get their hands on dubbed copies. That's not the case any more, so the utility of the rarities comp is questionable now.

Your entry in the 33 1/3 series, on Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, doubles as a short story, in which a troubled youth describes the album in his vernacular while dealing with treatment in an adolescent psychiatric center in 1985. Have you ever though of writing/releasing more fiction?

Yeah I am working on another book.