The Mountain Goats
The Baptist Generals
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
The Mountain Goats
In 2014, John Darnielle's novel Wolf in White Van spent several weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List and was nominated for the National Book Award. On April 7, 2015 Darnielle and his band the Mountain Goats return with Beat the Champ a collection of songs about professional wrestling.
“I wrote these songs to re-immerse myself in the blood and fire of the visions that spoke to me as a child, and to see what more there might be in them now that I’m grown,” Darnielle says of Beat the Champ's 12 songs.
The Mountain Goats (John Darnielle, Peter Hughes, and Jon Wurster) have also announced their first round of shows in support of Beat the Champ.
Listen and share “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” now. In addition, Joseph Fink of Welcome to Night Vale wrote a few words about the album, which you can read below.
Beat the Champ is available for pre-order now on CD, standard double-LP, and deluxe double-LP in the Merge store. The deluxe version will be pressed on limited-edition colored vinyl (gold and green) and include a bonus red vinyl 12-inch that features the non-album track “Blood Capsules” and a dub version of the same song on the B-side. Both the standard and deluxe LPs include a coupon for a full album download.
Joseph Fink on Beat the Champ:
I have been asked to write a bit about the upcoming album by the Mountain Goats called Beat the Champ. There is little I would love to do more.
Unfortunately I am a fiction writer, which is to say I am a liar. As a result, there are a number of lies below. Sorry about that. I’ve done my best to point out which parts are true.
Let’s start with this. The Mountain Goats are releasing a new album. The name of this album is Beat the Champ. It is, as any fan of the band will expect, a heartbreaking and heartreviving album about imperfect people described perfectly, with melodies that will stay with you for days.
There are also things about it that even longtime fans will not expect.
That’s all true.
The Mountain Goats, if you are not a longtime fan, is an itinerant, pseudomystical motorcycle cult that raises money through a regional chain of discount furniture outlets and the occasional musical release in order to fund their mysterious rituals and sacrifices enacted upon the highways and backroads of America.
That’s true as well.
The songs in Beat the Champ are about the simple and beautiful stories of professional wrestling as seen by fans who need something simple in their messy lives.
The songs are also about the complicated and beautiful lives of the people who work in professional wrestling, who do their best to entertain, to leave a mark, and, when all else fails, to survive.
It is an album about, as the chorus of one of its tracks puts it, “nameless bodies in unremembered rooms.” I think that the entire career of the Mountain Goats has been about giving names to nameless bodies, and remembering unremembered rooms. I can’t think of a more worthy cause.
The most famous wrestling match of all time was, of course, the Dunkirk Lion versus Hunk the Monk in their 1977 flaming cage match at Apocalypse Rumble: Pittsburgh. The match was to be held over an open spike pit and was to feature heavy mallets swinging wildly from wires. The match was so outrageously dangerous that both wrestlers refused to participate, and the resulting fan riot leveled the city, allowing for construction of the new Pittsburgh that stands today.
The least famous wrestling match of all time was between Shannon Kim and Maggie Lucero, in Maggie’s backyard in Moorpark, CA, their faces pushed into the wet grass, neither quite sure how wrestling worked, but both feeling the joy of seeing what bodies are capable of, neither able to do much but shove the other and slip on the damp ground, just a few minutes of half-hearted wrestling and then they biked down to the weed-filled canyon out behind their housing development and dared each other to climb to the top of a cinderblock retaining wall.
Beat the Champ is a gorgeous album that sees the Mountain Goats expand themselves musically, in startling and exciting ways. Here is a jazz chord progression over brushed cymbals. Here is a track that spirals out from verse and chorus into a slow, hazy piano solo. Here are pounding drums straight from a metal record. And here, as always, are songs like no one else can write them. Like no one else does write them.
Everything I’ve said so far is true. So is this:
When my father was dying, literally was on his deathbed, although we did not know it, he and I sang songs by the Mountain Goats together.
After finishing singing one of the songs, my father leaned his head back, looked over to a beam of sun coming in from a window with a gorgeous view of the Hollywood Hills that he could not see from his bed, and said: “What an optimistic man.” He died two days later.
Nameless bodies in unremembered rooms. What an optimistic man. What an album. What a goddamn album.
The Baptist Generals
On The Baptist Generals' sophomore album, the word "heart" repeats eight*** times. The Denton, TX band, known for its haunting, claustrophobic take on drunken folk, needed ten full years to bare its hearts—one of which is in the album title, Jackleg Devotional to the Heart, a name that songwriter Chris Flemmons conjured shortly after he recorded, and then trashed, the album's first attempt in 2005.
Flemmons goes so far as to call this his "love album," and it's an apt description—though love through The Baptist Generals' eyes is plenty complicated. Jackleg's hearts don't resemble valentines. No smooth curls into a final point. The band's vibraphones, guitarrons and ambient feedback combine like a mess of ventricles, aortas and veins—not to mention, from the sound of it, all of the blood spilled while Jackleg lurched for years toward an eventual finish line.
"After this bad accident, I wanna follow your scent, but you won't answer my call," Flemmons cries in the kick-down-the-door, Crazy Horse-loving opener of "Dog That Bit You." And it's hard to tell who he's pleading with in this harpsichord-driven take on scorned love. Maybe himself.
For years, Flemmons did everything he could to avoid facing Jackleg, from hiding in his house to obsessing over out-of-town condo developers (long story). His biggest project, a successful music festival he founded called 35 Denton, kept him in the local spotlight, which meant he continued hearing plenty about his critically-acclaimed 2003 full-length debut No Silver/No Gold. The dog kept biting.
Which meant, eventually the songs won out.
Finally getting those on tape meant Flemmons needed to let go. A self-proclaimed control freak, Flemmons had to strike a deal before his band mates would try again. The Generals' integral cast of local, underappreciated experimental-folk heroes (who've played with St. Vincent, Mind Spiders, History at our Disposal, The War on Drugs, Robert Gomez, Stumptone, etc.) claimed control of the production, using Flemmons' demo versions as guidance once the songwriter left the studio. The master tapes remained under the vigilant watch of producer Stuart Sikes (Loretta Lynn, Cat Power, The Walkmen, Modest Mouse, The White Stripes), co-producer, collaborator and ally Jason Reimer and long-time Baptist Generals mainstay Peter Salisbury. Without all of whom, we might all still be long-awaiting a new Baptist Generals album.
While longtime fans continued making SMiLE jokes, Flemmons made the most of his reduced workload, even exploring new corners of sound for the band. "Turnunders and Overpasses" rides a rollicking, almost-krautrock acoustic guitar line into a collision of orchestral strokes and minor-key noise. As Flemmons wonders aloud, "I saw your colors flying over me," high-pitched feedback fills the song's empty spaces, like a cue out of Fantasia. Meanwhile, the noisy, kitchen-sink opening of "Floating" melts into Flemmons at his most comfortable and familiar: "I'll go there once again, yes I was—will you hold my hand and dream with me?" he sings, his damaged, slightly nasal register dominating over only a acoustic guitar, as if he were still performing on Denton street corners in the late '90s. "You look familiar—will you hold my hand and dream with me?" he continues, the song's slightly askew poetry making way for a sad hello. Or a climactic goodbye.
"It might be saying a lot, or nothing at all," Flemmons dryly says from his Denton home. That's as close as he gets to explaining Jackleg's lyrics—but he is willing to frame the songs in terms of love, and not just because of the bad relationships that inspired at least a few of its songs. Getting the record done meant having a "healthy relationship" with the tracks, which he reached by playing them over the years at intimate concerts powered solely by palm-sized amplifiers. Most of the current band mates were along for those rare gigs, which Flemmons attributes to eventually trusting them with producing this record.
Call it a love record, then. It's the kind of love Flemmons had to figure out in the ten years since No Silver/No Gold, a period in which he admits he's fallen in love with a wild spectrum of music—the Ethiopiques series, saxophonist Archie Shepp, film scorer Meredith Willson, and plenty more. That wide spectrum only befits Jackleg's repeated need to buck genre; in fact, the 2005 version of the album hit the trash heap because "it sounded like any other indie rock-type band," Flemmons admits. Yet when making sense of how that music has impacted him over such a long period, he returns to the heart. Specifically, he refers to studies about the heart by 16th century British researcher William Harvey.
"He wanted to understand the vascular system," Flemmons says, "and it's largely very dry reading. He was vivisecting mammals and speculating about valves in veins. But what was fascinating, considering he was commissioned by the King, was that he had ideas about the spirit and where exactly it resided: 'You can't see warmth in water, therefore very much the same with seeing the spirit in a living organism.' Occasionally I hear music that is so in sync with me, right down to the alpha level… surely it seeps in. What the conduit makes in the music I write is hard to say."