by edited by Erik van Rheenen
The most remarkable thing about coming home to you is the feeling of being in motion again; it’s the most extraordinary thing in the world.
“Going to Georgia” — the best Mountain Goats song not named “Up the Wolves” — revels in a sense of placid simplicity, its melody as light and crisp as a zephyr sweeping off the Atlantic, spanning the coastal state, a breezy tailwind at singer John Darnielle’s back as he triumphantly crosses the Macon county line. But “Going to Georgia” isn’t the classic that it is because of the beauty of its simplicity — the tangle of emotions and characters that Darnielle lyrically weaves shines as brightly as the “Going to Georgia” narrator’s Southern-bound odyssey. Like Darnielle’s often-sung-about Alpha Couple — a married couple always a few steps from the brink of complete disintegration — the narrator and his significant other in “Going to Georgia” are also marked by ambiguity, which makes the song’s sense of romanticism imperfect and beautiful.
You smile as you ease the gun from my hand; I am frozen with joy right where I stand.
It’s telling, then, that Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties bookend their debut record, We Don’t Have Each Other, with a cover of the Mountain Goats’ standard. In his album-long character study of Aaron West, a Brooklynite stuck with a failed relationship, there’s something altogether Darnellian about Dan Campbell’s songwriting — a sense of coming to grips with religion (We Don’t Have Each Other abounds with Catholic imagery), a lyrical portrait of a flawed protagonist, and a slow, sad kind of cathartic triumph make Campbell’s character sketch a truly emotional gut punch of a listen.
I’ll shy away from sharing more lyrics than I have to here, since, as is a hallmark of Campbell’s discography, We Don’t Have Each Other rewards repeat listens as much as it floors listeners on initial impact. Unlike some concept records that weigh themselves down with needless exposition and meandering interludes, Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties cut the chase and get right down to the long and short of it all. I won’t say much, for fear of ruining the sense of discovery and exploration that comes from a keen ear for Campbell’s lyrics, but West’s story is as captivating as the taut musical arrangements that surround it.