The Mountain Goats: Erik Friedlander, Franklin Bruno, John Vanderslice, Peter Hughes , John Darnielle, Scott Solter, Alex DeCarville.
Recording information: Cotati, CA (11/04/2004-11/15/2004); Prairie Sun (11/04/2004-11/15/2004).
Photographer: Marco Atkins.
John Darnielle is, for all intents and purposes, the voice and vision of the Mountain Goats, though he is joined here by a handful of musicians (including John Vanderslice and Erik Friedlander) who lend texture and color to his strummed acoustic-guitar playing and plaintive singing. THE SUNSET TREE is one of Darnielle's most strikingly honest and emotionally affecting releases. Gone are the lo-fi antics and purposeful tape hiss of early Mountain Goats outings (Darnielle released his first several albums on cassette only); here the sound is stark and clear, highlighting the vulnerable, sometimes-awkward quality of Darnielle's voice and his literate, startlingly confessional lyrics.
An inscription in the album art dedicates the record to young people who have been abused. The topic is addressed on songs like "Lion's Teeth," "This Year," and "Dance Music," where Darnielle unfolds emotionally incisive narratives about his own childhood with retrospective insight and a writer's eye for detail. Intriguing arrangements--like the string-quartet backing on "Dilaudid"--keep the sound varied, but Darnielle's guitar and voice are front and center throughout, leaving THE SUNSET TREE firmly within the Mountain Goats' stylistic ken. The unflinching honesty here marks the album as one of Darnielle's most noteworthy achievements.
Spin (p.110) - "John Darnielle's written some of the toughest and most open-souled music of his lo-fi outlet's oft-brilliant history." - Grade: B+
Entertainment Weekly (No. 819, pp.88-9) - "[Darnielle writes] songs that could inspire a season's worth of TV-movie melodramas...Get the man an orchestra, now." - Grade: B
Uncut (p.98) - 4 stars out of 5 - "[A]utobiography intersects with dramatic storytelling which has always been the Californian's forte....[With] songs as gripping as any in the Goats' prolific catalogue."
Magnet (p.104) - "On an LP rife with personal agony and catharsis, Darnielle turns such material into a work of universal appeal."