The Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas
The epitome of lo-fi singer-songwriter greatness
Lo-fi can be effective as a chosen aesthetic, waving an aural banner that lays an artist’s money on songs and performances, rather than on production. But that aesthetic is even more powerful when it’s forced upon an artist by circumstance, such as a lack of budget, an inescapable urge to get music on tape and material whose intimacy might be smothered in a recording studio. Such was the case for this 2002 set by singer-songwriter John Darnielle. Recorded through the condenser mic of his trusty Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox, the album is almost purposeful in its throwback to the raw energy of his earlier work. The songs find their personality in personal details (“I am healthy, I am whole, but I have poor impulse control”) rather than their themes of troubled childhoods, misadventures and varying romantic temperatures. The lo-fi acoustics, including background noise from the boombox’s transport, magnify the feel of an artist’s notebook, and with songs that were often recorded within minutes or hours of being written, the performances have the urgency of a diary. Merge’s 2013 reissue was re-mastered from the original 1/4-inch transfers of the boombox tapes, and adds seven contemporaneous pieces from additional cassette sources.