Track This: Mountain Goat's Cubs in Five
Since 2002, particularly with the release of Tallahassee and the start of their tenure at 4AD , their output has been far more polished and now consists of more instrumentation. Darnielle's early recordings were recorded on his Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox and are very raw and immediate, often just nasally vocals and acoustic guitar. Once in awhile keyboards or backing vocals pop up. Albums like Sweden and Coroner's Gambit primarily rely on Darnielle's impassioned delivery and clever lyrics. On All Hail West Texas and Tallahassee, the sixth and seventh albums, Darnielle started exploring album length concepts that took full advantage of the humor and wit he had brought to his earlier songs, especially in the case of the "Going To" series, which covered trips to various places. These conceptual experiments culminated, at least in my opinion, on 2005's The Sunset Tree.
There are many great songs to choose from in The Mountain Goats catalog; it's hard to know where to start. I commonly favor the conceptual period, but love the early lo-fi recordings. I am still trying to get into the last few records as I think his songwriting has lost some of its power.
"Cubs in Five" is a fairly early recording, dating from 1995's Nine Black Poppies. It gets heavy spring play from me due to the subject matter, and it's just so damn hopeful. The song has the warm boombox buzz and rudimentary sound of the early Goats, and Darnielle does what he does best, juxtaposing unlikely cultural events with doomed love. He sings, "they're gonna find intelligent life up there on the moon / and the Canterbury Tales are going to shoot up to the top of the best seller list / and stay there for 27 weeks." The song also contends that Bill Gates will start a revival of Heaven 17, the 80's British synthpop band. Importantly though as the refrain states, the "Chicago Cubs will beat every team in the league / and the Tampa Bay Bucs will make it all the way to January." When these things happen, love will spring anew. The song might be an early stab at covering the toxic relationship of the "Alpha Couple" that fights their way through Tallahassee and a set of early Goats' songs. Despite doubt we might surmise that anything is possible. Except, unfortunately, the Cubs probably won't beat every team in the league.