16. Ghana (1999)
Although it's the equivalent of "Free Bird" within the band's catalog, "Golden Boy" is the best opening track on any Mountain Goats release. Originally released on the Object Lessons: Songs About Products compilation, it's ostensibly a goof on the goodness of Golden Boy Peanuts that bull-headedly progresses into a manic meditation on transactional holiness. The Orange Raja, Blood Royal EP is a long-distance collabo between Darnielle and New Zealand musician Alastair Galbraith (whose Long Wires in Dark Museums series with Matt De Gennaro is well worth seeking out). "Raja Vocative" is the highlight: Galbraith's sobbing violin parts augmenting a chunky descending chord progression and a Stipeian melody. Jokes are abundant, such as the shots fired on the Morrissey-mangling "Anti-Music Song" and the rock'n'roll history lesson "The Anglo-Saxons," with the all-time couplet "a sub-literate bunch of guys/though some sources say otherwise." Towards the middle is "The Last Day of Jimi Hendrix's Life," which forgoes tragedy for a quiet depiction of a man who just wants his drinking water and shower to be the right temperature. The exclamation point in the catchy Casio-backed "Wrong!" is a bit of a misdirection: it's one of the most static situations Darnielle's ever recorded, and a kind of spiritual cousin to Nick Drake's "Know," with its nagging melody and vast space surrounding the text.