If you know anything about the Mountain Goats, then you know John Darnielle regularly writes vast numbers of songs, pretty much all of which are great, and not all of which manage to make their way onto Mountain Goats albums. Darnielle has a number of ways of dealing with those overflow songs. Sometimes, he puts them away for later, and they show up on future projects. Sometimes, he plays them live and then never puts the records out. Sometimes, he releases little interstitial joints — cassette tapes to sell on tour, Bandcamp EPs. And sometimes, he saves some good ones for the B-sides. Darnielle and his band just dropped a good one as a B-side.
Back in the springtime, the Mountain Goats released the richly orchestrated, vaguely fantasy-driven new album In League With Dragons. Since then, they’ve already put out two new songs, “Sentries In The Ambush” and “Divided Sky Lane” into the world. And now they’ve just released a 7″ single of one of the best In League With Dragons songs: “Welcome To Passaic,” the one that Darnielle wrote from the perspective of a hard-touring, teleprompter-dependent Ozzy Osbourne. On that song, Darnielle repeats the phrase “I want everyone to get high” a few times — talking in Ozzy’s voice, of course, not his. But on the brand-new B-side, Darnielle paraphrases that line while paying tribute to another set of UK dark-rock idols: “I Want To Get High And Listen To The Cure.”
Musically, the new song splits the difference between classic lo-fi Mountain Goats and the lush, elaborate recent fare. It starts out sounding ramshackle, with Darnielle announcing that he’s hitting play on a beat sequencer. But the song is rich with pianos and harmonies, and there’s no guitar on it. Darnielle recorded it at home.
On the song, Darnielle announces a desire to “get high and listen to the Cure all night” — which frankly sounds like a great idea — and spends most of the song shouting out various different Cure records. (Best line: “The whole of Pornography, especially side two.”) It’s a spiritual successor to the Mountain Goats’ 2017 album Goths, and Darnielle, in fact, originally wrote it for that album. Below, listen to “Get High And Listen To The Cure” and read what Darnielle has to say about the new single.
On the Mountain Goats’ website, John Darnielle writes:
As is generally known, whenever I get some time to myself I tend to start thinking about Ozzy Osbourne. A few years ago I wrote about 3/4 of an album’s worth of songs about Black Sabbath and/or Ozzy’s solo career, some of which were on the Marsh Witch Visions EP. When I sent Owen Pallett a link to the songs I was working on for In League With Dragons, he noticed a bunch of other songs in the folder — stuff I’d meant to say “these were for something else” about, but didn’t. Those songs were probably going to hang out in that folder for a good long while or maybe never see daylight at all. I am a shark, I seek the blood-cloud a little further ahead.
But Owen announced, in our second conversation about Dragons, that “Passaic” was the single. I was pretty surprised by this — to me it felt like a 2/3 Robert Forster + 1/3 Syd Barrett‘s Opel sessions cocktail, music dear to my heart but not renowned for its chartbusting ways. Owen, however, heard the song more in the vein of “Talk About the Passion”-era R.E.M., stuff I only know in passing. Still, I was committed to having him call the shots on the arrangements, and curious about what he meant.
One pre-production session, one full studio session, some very intense mixing back-and-forths with the genius Shani Gandhi, and two tours later, the arena-with-lighters heart of the song has revealed itself even to me, who can barely find an arena on a map. Shani’s final mix takes at least 50% of the credit for the way that final chorus and outro now sound like the morning sun rising above a nameless rock festival’s trashed field somewhere east of Ohio in the mid-seventies, everybody drowsy and loving their situation, all vibes positive except the ones you haven’t accounted for yet.
Speaking of singles, Peter Hughes, on hearing “Get High and Listen to the Cure” — written for Goths, attempted in the studio sessions in versions that lacked the snap of this demo — felt certain this was the song that would make us a household name. I’m fond of the song, though I don’t share his conviction that it’s the Mountain Goats song the whole world has been waiting to hear. Should this release prove Peter right, I will be quite content to concede the point.