The Mountain Goats: The Sunset Tree (2005)

I tend to bucket The Mountain Goats alongside Neutral Milk Hotel -- emotionally grueling records I can't visit too often, but are always there for me when I need a good cry or just a soul-baring experience.  And like NMH, John Darnielle's vocals and intimate stylings don't make this something I freely recommend to everyone; but if you're willing to open yourself up to it, his music can be remarkable.

After a number of years of lo-fi, largely solo boombox recordings, Darnielle started recording more fully-fleshed-out records, with actual production values and a sparse backing band; this is the third of the latter category, and while I don't necessarily have a favorite MG album, this is the one that moves me the most.  A shockingly confessional work, it draws on Darnielle's childhood with an abusive stepfather, so you can imagine the emotional notes it strikes.

For me, the album is worth it for "This Year" alone, my favorite Mountain Goats song (and, quite frankly, one of the most memorable songs in my lifetime), both harrowing and optimistic.

   I played video games in a drunken haze, I was seventeen years young
   Hurt my knuckles punching the machines, the taste of scotch rich on my tongue
   And then Cathy showed up, and we hung out
   Trading swigs from a bottle all bitter and clean
   Locking eyes, holding hands, twin high maintenance machines
   I am going to make it through this year, if it kills me.

So, yeah, I'm a soppy mess by the time it ends, every damn time.  Other highlights include "Dance Music," the almost upbeat pace and loving attention to every detail making the underlying emotions almost bearable; opener "You Or Your Memory" is another nice one, and "Broom People" once again just barely manages to balance the sadness and hope ("I write down good reasons to freeze to death in my spiral ring notebook/But in the long tresses of your hair I am a babbling brook").  But it's a hard album to do justice to piecemeal; I could spend the day sitting here excerpting lyrics, but you'd be better served setting aside a good block of time, sitting down with the lyric sheet and immersing yourself.

Here's the (kinda disturbing) video for "This Year":
 Here's "Dance Music" live in the studio:
...and a live take on "Broom People":