Reviewing the Decade in Music: Entry #5

Some things in life are immaculate for what they tell us. Others are immortalized for what they keep secret.

The Mountain Goats' All Hail West Texas fulfills this mantra with emphatic honesty. Lyrics craftily engineered by front man  John Darnielle encompass the emotions, lifestyles and ever-present sentiment of nothingness that permeates the warm, empty expanse of otherworldliness that is West Texas. While this concept album follows the lives of West Texas residents, it never reveals the absolute truth behind their stories, leaving a Brewster County-sized gap for the listener to reflect on.

Released in early 2001, All Hail West Texas was the last lo-fi album recorded on Darnielle's legendary Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox. For those unfamiliar with The Mountain Goats' work, Darnielle  literally huddles around a boombox and records albums such as All Hails West Texas and The Hound Chronicles in real time.

All Hail West Texas is best defined as a loose concept album. While the cover of the album states "fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys." a true dialectical pathway is difficult to identify and follow.

The influence of West Texas on the album is immeasurable, so much so that the charm of the album may be difficult to adopt for listeners that have never had the... pleasure?.. to "switch to 285 in Pecos and head up to Red Bluff" however anyone who has ever found themselves lost in the West Texas desert with sweat trickling down their forehead and tumbleweed rolling alongside the highway will be able to imagine what Darnielle sees as he wrote songs like "Jeff Davis County Blues."

Beside the West Texas geographical setting, the album also touches on the realities of life commonly found among West Texas residents, including depression, alcohol dependency and hopelessness. "Fault Lines" exposes the superficial existence of the young couple that seem to be the lead characters of the album as they find themselves with "the house, the jewels, the italian race car/but they don't make us feel better about who we are."

A key theme of All Hail West Texas is the quasi-freedom of youthful rebellion. William Stanaforth Donahue discovers the monetary allure of dealing drugs after his former glory as a football star is squashed after his knee buckles during an out of town game, only to end up facing federal drug charges. Jenny and her lover roar throughout lonely West Texas highways when she "points her head lamp towards the horizon/we were the one thing in the galaxy god didn't have his eye on" however they fail to find purpose in life and in each other, and slowly fall out of love. Jeff and Cyrus manifest ambitions of becoming the next stars of metal, using satanism and shock value as a springboard, only to have their dreams stifled by teachers and administrators from a school where they told Cyrus "he'd never be famous." The corrosive emptiness of the West Texas environment only packs on to the feelings of despair the characters in All Hail West Texas feel as they struggle with the harshness of life.

The lo-fi acoustics of All Hail West Texas is a perfect medium for the hopeless desolation present in Darnielle's lyrics. The soft treble and whispery static feedback makes the album feel like it is being transmitted through a distant FM radio station, perhaps the meaning behind the track titled "Distant Stations." The acoustics perfectly fit the lyrics, which perfectly fit the music, which perfectly fits the concept. All Hail West Texas strikes a chord with a sublime majesty that tumbles through crisp summer winds outside of Stockdale, Texas and creeps up to the New Mexican border, culminating in a big, orange sun that lights up magnificent silhouettes and brings night time to Texas.

"The Mess Inside"

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