A note to all would-be bullies, abusive fathers, husbands and the like: As you stumble through life, justifying that extra-hot pot of eternal hell-broth that awaits you on the other side, it’s a good idea not to beat any sense of artistry into your victims. Your judgment will come in some form of critically acclaimed and extremely public catharsis that is certain to sting for far longer than the temporary physical or psychological pain you managed to inflict. Such was the case with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. Darnielle was an obscenely capable singer-songwriter who toiled in relative obscurity until his 2005 album, The Sunset Tree, hit a nerve with its brutal, cutting and detailed narrative that described his nightmarish childhood spent under the reign of an abusive stepfather.
The Sunset Tree opened to Darnielle checking into a hotel with a caseload of booze and aspirin and perhaps the intent of never checking out. Over the course of that album, with the help of a stereo and a volume knob, Darnielle was determined to make it through a year of violence if it killed him. Get Lonely moves past these issues and wanders through the chilly aftermath. Darnielle has amassed a catalog of more than four hundred songs, many of which he wrote in the first person despite the fact that The Sunset Tree contains some of his only autobiographical material. This trend continues on Get Lonely. Darnielle is drawing from a seemingly unending well of personal yet fictional narratives that make for an emotionally draining experience because they’re coupled with vivid poetry and definitive statements (“sometime after midnight the ground is gonna freeze”). And, perhaps most shockingly for this medium, these observations are meted out in complete sentences.
Darnielle may be happily married, but Get Lonely takes us through an autumn of solitude in the wake of a serious breakup. The sound is softer and the strings tempered. There are no moments of insane violins that brought out the hysterical moments on The Sunset Tree (“Dilaudid”). On opener “Wild Sage,” Darnielle shuffles down the highway to the sound of a light acoustic guitar, a lighter piano and the manic laughter of a hitchhiker who’s moving on from far more than just a previous geography. To the shake of acoustic and pull of electric, he literally cleans house on “Half Dead.” He’s coping in a much healthier manner. Considering his brash moments of rebelliousness from The Sunset Tree, it’s possible that Darnielle chose this narrative to avoid the perception of Get Lonely being nothing more than a companion or linear follow-up album. The themes of recovery and redemption are present, but in these scenarios they don’t necessarily apply to his abuse-surviving past. “Woke Up New” has some of the album’s truest moments; rolling out of bed alone for the first time, Darnielle walks through a cold, empty house putting on a sweater and wondering how much coffee to make now that he’s only brewing for one.
Sure he’s getting lonely, but he’s dealing with it and possesses such an active head-life (“I think I hear angels in my ears/ Sounding like marbles being thrown against a mirror”) that at least he won’t Get Bored. The urgency and bone-deep brutality of The Sunset Tree may be missing here, but Get Lonely is a gentle, lucid and honest reality that works as a testament to Darnielle’s keen instincts for situational observation.