Saturday, August 1, 2015

Review of The Mountain Goats' Beat The Champ

It's been three years since the Mountain Goats released Transcendental Youth in 2012. Such a time is typical for most groups in this era but it's practically an eternity for John Darnielle's insanely prolific indie folk entity. The band was touring at least and Darnielle dabbled in the world of fiction once more with 2014's Wolf In White Van. Now in 2015, the Mountain Goats are back to apply their signature quirks to the odd world of underground professional wrestling.

I'll admit to thinking it was a joke when Beat The Champ's theme was announced, but there's no denying that it's just another that the band manages to make relatable. They've incorporated religion, literature, nerd culture, and historical anecdotes into their past musings so it isn't too shocking to see sweaty guys (mostly) pretending to beat each other up be treated with the same dignity. Points of view alternate between the wrestler, spectator, and the omniscient while the moods are somber, humorous, somber, and nostalgic when they aren't any sort of combination.

The instrumentation also manages to keep things interesting. The piano and woodwinds that drive the opening "Southwestern Territory" gives it an encompassing feel that could make a neat sports montage,  "Choked Out" has a heavy punk style, and the double bass percussion on "Werewolf Gimmick" gives further credibility to Darnielle's love for extreme heavy metal.
But for everything this album has going for it, it doesn't quite hit the same emotional depths as the Mountain Goats' past work. The theme of childhood nostalgia on "The Ballad of Chavo Guerrero" makes it feel like a companion piece to The Sunset Tree right down to the stepfather quip and the humorous refrain on "Foreign Object" aims to serve as another shout-along in the vein of "No Children" and "This Year," but neither attempt is quite as powerful. Some may point to the theme as being responsible for this but it may just come down to the fact that Tallahassee and The Sunset Tree are just that hard to top or even match.

Overall, Beat the Champ may not be another essential Mountain Goats album but its experiments and overall quality keep it from sounding complacent. The wrestling themes would've failed in lesser hands (I'm honestly surprised some nu metal band or horrorcore rapper didn't beat them to it) but the subject is done justice. I don't see this capturing that demographic but it's a safe purchase for fans and worth checking out once you've heard their more seminal efforts.

"The Legend of Chavo Guerrero"
"Foreign Object"
"Heel Turn 2"
"Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan"
"Werewolf Gimmick"

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