A couple of months ago, the Mountain Goats released their new LP In League With Dragons. It’s one more rich, thoughtful, generally excellent album in a career that’s absolutely stuffed full of them. But if you know anything about the Mountain Goats, you already know that a whole lot of the group’s best songs never make it onto any of their albums. And today, the band has dropped a couple of them on us.
On the Mountain Goats’ Bandcamp page, John Darnielle reports that his two new songs, “Sentries In The Ambush” and “Divided Sky Lane,” are “orphans” that were too good to disappear completely, so he’s collected both of them on a bonus 7″. Both recordings are relatively lo-fi, with Darnielle singing in harmony over acoustic guitars. But because Darnielle is really using his voice these days, they don’t sound like the blood-and-thunder jams of the Mountain Goats’ boom-box days.
“Sentries In The Ambush” is fast and driving. It concerns Darnielle’s narrator finding a pile of dead soldiers’ remains on a battlefield: “Not enough flesh remaining to say who fought bravely today / But I knew them all when they lived and had fight to give.” “Divided Sky Lane” is slower and more meditative, and it concerns a lost soul’s wanderings: “Much blood shed in the phantom zone / I’m a civilian now, I can’t go home.” Below, listen to both songs and read what Darnielle says about them.
The bonus 7″ for In League with Dragons consisted of two songs that were surely going to get orphaned, since I almost never bring along anything from a previous year’s work into the next one. I liked them too well to just let them shuffle off into oblivion, so here they are. “Divided Sky Lane” was written and recorded in the back lounge of a bus parked at Merriweather Post Pavilion during the tour where we opened for Jason Isbell — I think it might have been the first night of the tour. “Sentries in the Ambush” is one of the songs from the Riversend song cycle that eventually turns into In League With Dragons — this one’s pretty explicitly sword-and-sorcery and is about a high-casualties land-based attack on the usually peaceful Riversend community. The song after it in the sequence was going to be called “Seaside Wolves” and involved the summoning of mystical warriors from either underneath the sea or in caves by it, but before the matter could get settled I had started thinking about Doc Gooden again, which resulted in an entirely different song, which is not our subject here. Enjoy!