The Mountain Goats, Sweden

Michael Azerrad

By Michael Azerrad

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

To listen to the Mountain Goats '1995 album Sweden is to tour a domestic landscape with capsicum pepper trees in the backyard and bubbling tubs of sour mash in the basement, and to venture through locales as exotic as Bolivia, Seoul and Queens, but never escape a disintegrating relationship vividly real and stringently unromanticized, conjured in the most plain-spoken, dead-on language.

Short stories rendered to tape via a guitar and a boom-box.

Taped direct-to-boombox, lo-fi is not even the word for this recording, but who cares: Darnielle brings it all back home in no uncertain terms on album closer, “Cold Milk Bottle.” After all is said and done, he proclaims, loudly, "Despite your random acts of violence/ I feel all right/ Despite the force of your fury/ I feel all right." It's not even clear who he's addressing: a lover, a friend, a relative, fate, or God. Doesn't matter. The kicker is when he goes straight into a poignant quotation of the jazz standard "Mean to Me": "You're mean to me/ Why must you be mean to me/ You shouldn't forget, you see/ What you mean to me." He will never know the answer, and yet it's so abundantly clear that he will soldier on.

How one man with a nasal, nerdy voice and an out-of-tune acoustic guitar can summon up such heroic defiance is one of the great miracles of music. It's one of the most epic two minutes I've ever heard.