Every Mountain Goats album is, on some level, a conceptual writing exercise; it seems to be how frontman John Darnielle’s brain works. But one of the remarkable things about In League With Dragons, the band’s 18th and newest album, is how far Darnielle ventures afield from the album’s whole stated idea. Darnielle has said that he started out writing In League With Dragon as a rock opera set in a fantastical realm. (It’s certainly well-timed for a moment when so many of us are spending so many hours thinking about dragons and fantastical realms.) He’s also said that the album belongs to a genre called “dragon noir,” a genre he’s hoping to will into being. But the album itself is full of songs about faded major-league pitchers or a drunken night at a casino spent while on the run.
On a purely musical level, In League With Dragons is easily the most richly orchestrated Mountain Goats album. The band recorded the LP with Owen Pallett, and it’s fully of majestic slickness, with strings and saxophones pushing the sound ever closer to prog. Darnielle — who has been documenting the making of this album on the podcast I Only Listen To The Mountain Goats — has been making every album more ornate than the last for decades, but this one sounds positively lavish, damn near baroque.
In League With Dragons is out 4/26 on Merge.