Quick Band Bio: The Mountain Goats are an indie folk band that started back in 1991 and are still active today, their most recent release being Transcendental Youth last year. This being said, the only member who’s been in the band for the full time period is singer/songwriter John Darnielle who today is accompanied by bassist Peter Hughes and John Wurster on the drums, but back when Sweden was released was only paired with bassist/vocalist Rachel Ware. Back in 1995 at a festival soon after the release of Sweden, Darnielle stated “I don’t think a career in music is a way to live, you know, so yeah I want to teach. I want to be a person, and music is..is a different aspect, an important aspect of life..but not, you know, I wouldn’t want to live like musicians live. I just couldn’t do that.”
Sweden was the 2nd Mountain Goats album, and in spite of the quote it would prove to be an early mark of brilliance in a discography that today features fourteen albums and numerous EPs. What makes Sweden the significant album from this group to look back on?
I view Sweden as the best example of a brilliant and basic indie folk album. Many tracks solely use an acoustic guitar and vocals while others solely add a bass for rhythmic purposes. The point of this is that there isn’t to much to struggle with on the album, the songs flow by and present themselves easily. Darnielle is a great lyricist but he doesn’t try and trick you with his references or wordplay, but rather use those to further the point of what’s being semi-clearly stated. A good example of this is in the song “Flashing Lights” where he sings “The pink colors behind the clouds tonight mirror the softer shades of you nightgown. As the neurotransmitters go crazy inside of me, you swear you’re leaving town. Empty promises. Empty promises.” The message is clear, she’s telling him she’s going to leave him and he thinks she’s full of it, but there are those extra details Darnielle describes that make the scene more real, and less like a thought created to get a reaction or send a message.
Individual tracks on the album succeed for their own purposes. The opening track of the album “The Recognition Scene” tells the story of a robber who falls in love with his partner and can’t escape the idea of how much he’ll miss her when she’s gone. “Deianara Crush” on the other hand is a reference to the greek mythological story and his humorous response with “And you tell me that Hercules died burning consumed by an article of his own clothing. That’s something I’d rather not be reminded of”. Some succeed for being surprisingly detailed and random (“Neon Orange Glimmer Song”) while others rely upon being as soft and genuine as possible (“Whole Wide World”). The truth about Sweden is that there aren’t many recurring elements in meaning or song writing style, but the songs all still flow into one another easily because it’s essentially just an acoustic guitar, vocals, and un-produced sound. That’s why this album defines indie folk so well for me, it’s a classic album by a classic indie folk artist.
Once again, my suggestion will always be to listen to the whole album and choose which songs you like for yourself, but if you want samples I’d suggest The Recognition Scene, Going to Queens, Flashing Lights and Whole Wide World