The Mountain Goats: Bleed Out - Album Review
Wage wars, get rich, great album.
On the same day that The Mountain Goats released Bleed Out, I sat my driving test for the first time. Getting up early for the test meant I sadly couldn’t listen to the album in full beforehand, but while making coffee that morning, I put the album on shuffle to hear a sample of tracks, to whet my appetite, and amp me up for the test. Among the four songs I heard, one was Make You Suffer, an immediate standout from what is a career high point for the band. Maybe I’m biased here - after all, like John Darnielle, I love crime films, and it’s the seedy worlds of noir and thrillers that inspire the majority of Bleed Out. However, hearing the opening couplet of “I'm going to rise up early every day / Overcome every obstacle in my way” was exactly what I needed to hear that morning. While most albums by The Mountain Goats tell stories of underdog characters, Bleed Out is an album that really puts the listener in the underdog headspace. Its characters may not always succeed or achieve their goals, but Goddamn, they’re not going down without a fight.
From the moment the opening chords of lead single Training Montage lead you in, you know you’re listening to something special. What starts out as an acoustic number reminiscent of pre-Tallahassee-era Goats blossoms into a full band battle cry, all gnashing distortion and luscious horns. It’s a song that makes me feel like I can run through a brick wall. While I was driving around that day, its instantly loveable chorus of “I’m doing this for revenge!” echoed in my mind. I certainly am doing this to try and stay true - learning to drive has long been a terrifying prospect for me, and one that I felt I owed myself. After all, why shouldn’t I take that opportunity to make a life-changing decision like this? “Everybody’s ready for justice,” sings Darnielle. I certainly am.
Almost every Mountain Goats album follows a theme. Sometimes it’s in the form of an explicit concept album, like Beat The Champ’s tales of wrestling heroes. Other times it’s in consistent themes and concepts, like 2020’s underrated Getting Into Knives and its themes of self-discipline and betterment. Bleed Out straddles both camps. On one hand, it’s about “Plots, characters, heists, hostages, questionable capers, getaway cars, all that stuff”, but on a core level, this is an album purely about desperation and survival. Whether it’s the hopeful nihilistic fugitive that narrates Extraction Point, or the chilling cutaways between the anxious news crew and cold-blooded terrorist in Hostages, every track is brimming with urgency.
You can sense that urgency in the instrumentation, too: every band member is firing on all cylinders. Jon Wurster’s propulsive drumming adds drama to the breakneck Wage Wars Get Rich Die Handsome, and Matt Douglas remains the band’s secret weapon, elevating tracks like the aforementioned Hostages to new heights through Boston-esque layers of sound. It’s Peter Hughes who dazzles me the most though - his restless riffing on First Blood makes a solid case for one of the best active bassists today.
It’s incredible to me that Bleed Out marks the fourth album by The Mountain Goats in just three years. It’s clear they’re not content in resting on their laurels - with each new album, the songwriting and musicianship has clawed to new heights - but there’s a rapid-fire feeling to Bleed Out that they’ve not shown for many years. Maybe it’s due to the crime films that inspired so many of these songs, or maybe it’s the speed at which the tracks were recorded, but there’s an electric energy to the album that strikes me on every listen. The high tempo tracks sound like they could explode at any moment, and when they finally slow things down on the title track, it’s through a tense live recording where the band’s chemistry shines through.
Above all, Bleed Out is the sound of a masterful band perfecting their craft and enjoying themselves while they’re at it. There’s something here for every kind of Mountain Goats fan: if you’re here for anthemic singalongs, look no further than Training Montage or First Blood*. If you want devastating emotional gut-punches, try Extraction Point or the title track. If you want to kick back and feel you’re in a classic crime flick, try Wage Wars or the badass Guys On Every Corner. If you want to hear one of the best albums of the year, you need to listen to Bleed Out.
And to circle back to the start of this article, I passed my driving test, and Training Montage soundtracked my first post-test drive. Shining on the inside? Absolutely.
*It’s amazing to me how “John Rambo never went to Vietnam” can become one of the catchiest choruses of the year. First Blood’s a bop.
Highlight tracks: Training Montage, Hostages, Make You Suffer, Incandescent Ruins
Key lyric: When you know you’ll never make it out alive, you kinda get to live out your dream.
AC is the Head of Written Content at QSO Media. Read more of their articles here.
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