Published Oct 21, 2020Dismissing the idea of allowing 2020 to go to waste, Getting Into Knives is the follow-up to John Darnielle's solo album, Songs for Pierre Chuvin, which the Mountain Goats' bandleader recorded on a boombox over the month of March following the COVID-19 induced shutdowns that scuttled the band's intentions to record in North Carolina and then hit the road for the better part of the year.
With the music industry on pause, the group worked within the ongoing tension and headed to Memphis, Tennessee — the city known as the spiritual centre for blues, soul and country music. Recording at Elvis' favourite post-show hangout in Memphis, Sam Philips Studio, Getting into Knives would serve as a counterpoint to the stripped-back lo-fi feel of Songs for Pierre Chuvin, with an open-door policy giving the album a spontaneous, off-the-floor vibe that only comes from a group of musicians comfortable enough to let the song serve as the guideline, never letting ego clutter their art.
Right from the brushed snares, the doubled-up vocals and Darnielle's staccato delivery on "Corsican Mastiff Stride," it's clear the collaborative live vibe of the past 19 albums was going to come shining through. Anchored by the vibrant percussion work of Jon Wurster, Getting into Knives moves from the rock-flavoured "As Many Candles as Possible" to more piano-fronted cuts, including "The Last Place I Saw You Alive" and "Wolf Count."
Pulled together over a busy week in Memphis this past summer, many of the songs examine elements of time — things passing on or reflecting on emotions that drive us to do the things we do. Although at times Darnielle's wordplay can come across as a series of unrelated platitudes, it's not indicative of the rest of the songwriting.
Spread out over 13 songs, it's apparent that the spirit of Memphis inspired the album, with touches of country, jazz and rock meeting with the folk tradition that are the root of the group's songwriting. Such a wide breath of influences can come across as convoluted in the hands of less-skilled musicians, but Darnielle has always had the right people around him to understand his vision, whether its voluble tracks like "Rat Queen" or the stripped-back shuffle of the title track. (Merge)