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"The most remarkable thing about you standing in the doorway

is that it's you, and that you're standing in the doorway."
—"Going to Georgia", from Zopilote Machine[1]

An indie rock band based in Durham, North Carolina, and consisting in the main of John Darnielle and his guitar. From 1991 to 2002 the band was notable for its lo-fi recording style, many songs being recorded by Darnielle at home on a department-store boom box, although since Tallahassee he has made more use of proper studio equipment and a wider range of instruments, resulting in something of a Broken Base.

Mountain Goats songs are particularly remarkable for Darnielle's narrative, highly literary lyrical style. Many songs form part of a series, such as the "Songs for..." and "Going to..." series, or make up part of a broader narrative, such as the 'Alpha' cycle. Albums are often built around a single theme, such as The Life of the World to Come's obvious Biblical motif.

Tropes used in The Mountain Goats include:
  • Abusive Parents: The (autobiographical) theme of The Sunset Tree.
    • Played at its most soul-shattering in the rarely performed "Song for my Stepfather".

 you can go ahead and hit him

he feels no pain at all

you erase me

you erase me

  • The Alcoholic: Both of the Alpha Couple.
  • All Lowercase Letters: For a long time, "the Mountain Goats" was the only acceptable rendering.
  • Angry Mob Song: Inverted by "If You See Light," where the narrator is hiding from a mob, and in "Heretic Pride," in which the narrator is being killed by an angry mob.
  • Anti-Love Song: Any song concerning the Alpha Couple, and plenty of the rest too.
  • Ascended Fanboy: John Nall runs a fansite and near-obsessive collection of lyrics and tabs; it's now regarded as pretty much official.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Even before 2009's Bible-based The Life of the World to Come, lyrics and song titles made frequent allusions and references to Scripture (along with holy texts and concepts of other religions).
  • The Atoner: Subverted in "Prowl Great Cain". The narrator feels all the guilt of his betrayals and sins but is not stopped by them in the least.
  • Aw, Look — They Really Do Love Each Other: Subverted in "Oceanographer's Choice". The Alpha Couple's reconciliation is an example of their dangerous codependency and is one of the most violent songs in the series.
  • Audience Participation: John frequently solicits requests from the audience.
  • Audience Participation Song: "No Children" ("I hope we ALL die!"), "Hand Ball," "Carmen Cicero," "Terror Song."
  • Auto Erotica: "So Desperate"
  • Berserk Button: For pretty genial values of "berserk." Still, don't ask for "Golden Boy," and don't mention Hail and Farewell, Gothenburg.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Sunset Tree closes with "Pale Green Things", which examines ambivalent memories of the album's antagonist.
    • We Shall All Be Healed ends with "Quito" and "The Pigs That Ran Straightaway into the Water, Triumph Of". The former is about a speed freak planning out how everything's going to be better as soon as his luck changes while the latter is about victory over addiction, but both account for the many who were not as lucky.
  • Break Up Song: Some of the most cathartic ever written. Take "Baboon": "I'd be grateful my children aren't here to see this / Had you ever seen fit to give me children."
  • Calling the Old Man Out: "Lion's Teeth."
  • Careful with That Axe: Peter Hughes's howl at the end of live performances of "See America Right."
  • Character Title
  • Concept Album: Sweden, All Hail West Texas, Tallahassee, We Shall All Be Healed, The Sunset Tree, The Life of the World to Come.
  • Creator Backlash: JD all but refuses to play some of the old songs, especially Going To Georgia; you can hear him talking about this on some live recordings.

  "Golden Boy" is always followed by a long speech about his hatred for the song.

  • The Cover Changes the Gender: "One fine day, you're gonna want me for your girl own!"
  • Cover Version: "The Sign" by Ace of Base. John legitimately loved the song, and loved to perform it, but stopped because he believed his audience thought he was covering it ironically.
    • Also "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon, on the officially unreleased yet illegally leaked album Hail and Farewell, Gothenburg.
  • Destructo-Nookie: "Oceanographer's Choice." "And then we fell down / And we locked arms / We knocked the dresser over as we rolled across the floor..."
  • The Determinator : "Up the Wolves." "Alpha Desperation March." "Damn These Vampires." "Sax Rohmer #1"
  • Did Not Get the Girl: "Alpha Omega" reveals that the Alpha Couple never work out their issues and separate.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: Averted... kind of. John disapproves of early leaks on artistic grounds, but happily acknowledges that Napster brought the Mountain Goats to a much broader audience. He allows bootlegs to be posted on, but would personally prefer live shows to be kept between him and the audience.
  • Don't Come a-Knockin': The fogged windows in "So Desperate."
  • Driven to Suicide: At the end of Get Lonely, the narrator of "In Corolla" walks into the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: "You're in Maya." "Gameshows Touch Our Lives.'
  • Drugs Are Bad: We Shall All Be Healed doesn't make (meth)amphetamines sound very appealing.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: We Shall All Be Healed makes it clear that the protagonist's eventual triumph over addiction was a Pyrrhic victory.
  • Epic Song: "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton."
  • Evolving Music, for better or worse.
  • Executive Meddling: Averted for two decades and counting.
  • Former Child Star: Seems to be a fascination of John Darnielle. "Song for Dana Plato" "The Autopsy Garland" "Tyler Lambert's Grave"
  • Freudian Excuse: "Pseudothyrum Song"; I think someone was mean to you when you were little, that's what I think.
  • God Is Good: The chronically ill narrators of "Romans 10:9" and "Isaiah 45:23" maintain their faith in God and trust that they will be delivered from their suffering.
  • God Is Evil: In "Supergenesis" , the banished snake in the Garden of Eden is motivated by his perceived mistreatment at the hands of God
  • Grief Song: "Matthew 25:21," "Shadow Song," "Mole,' "Your Belgian Things." "Cobscook Bay," "Philippians 2:20-21,"
  • Happily Married: Don't let the endless list of angsty songs fool you.
  • Have You Seen My God?: Averted on The Life of the World to Come, where even the most depraved and dejected characters are seeking connection with (some idea of) God.
  • How Dare You Die on Me!: "Insurance Fraud #2"
  • Hostage Situation: "Cut Off Their Thumbs #1"
  • Human Popsicle: Featured heavily on Moon Colony Bloodbath particularly "Emerging".
  • Human Resources: The plot of Moon Colony Bloodbath
  • "I Am" Song: "Hand Ball." "I am the dry meat that fills the mouth. I am the fire that burns without wood. I am Evil Forest. Kill a man on the day that his life seems sweetest to him."
  • I Am Not Shazam: Even when performing solo, John will introduce himself with 'Hi, we're The Mountain Goats'.
  • I Am the Band: Though he's had the same bassist for a whopping eight years now, John Darnielle is the only constant in the lineup of "The Mountain Goats".
  • Iconic Song Request: "No Children!" "Going to Georgia!" "Best Ever Death Metal Band!" "GOLDEN BOY!!!!"
  • I Did What I Had to Do: "Against Pollution"
  • Intercourse with You: "I've Got the Sex"
  • Interrupted Suicide: "Going to Georgia"

 And you smiled as you eased the gun from my hand

And I am frozen with joy right where I stand

  • It's Not You, It's Me: The protagonist of "Omega Blaster" seems remorseful and apologetic to the point of point of self-hatred as he leaves his significant other after an implied affair.
  • Kung Shui: The Alpha couple in "Oceanographer's Choice" trashes a room fighting — and then destroys it when they start having sex.
  • Literary Allusion Title
  • Lonely Piano Piece: "1 John 4:16" and "Deuteronomy 2:10."
  • Lonely Together: "Dinu Lapatti's Bones" demonstrates how dark this trope can be.
  • Long Title: "If England Were What England Seems, Then We Would Only Have Our Dreams." "Pigs That Ran Straightaway into the Water, Triumph of." "Thank You Mario, But Our Princess Is in Another Castle."
  • Lost Episode: Dissatisfied with the way Hail and Farewell, Gothenburg turned out, John never released it — and was less than pleased when it turned up online a few years later. More recently, the West Texas Orphans EP was cancelled and the master tapes destroyed because of non-stop demands for pirated versions of Moon Colony Bloodbath on the band's own forum. This is why we can't have nice things.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "No Children" is a jaunty, upbeat song with the chorus line "I hope you die. I hope we both die."
  • Lyrical Tic: "Yeah!"
  • Messy Hair: The less said about his Get Lonely-era hair, the better.
  • Murder Ballad: "Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace". "Against Pollution", though it's in self-defense.
  • Music for Courage: "Dance Music" and "Hast Thou Considered The Tetrapod" on The Sunset Tree:

 " Held under these smothering waves by your strong and thick-veined hand"

" But one of these days, I'm gonna wriggle up on dry land"

    • "Sax Rohmer Pt. 1" fits pretty well. "I am coming home to you/If it's the last thing that I do."
  • My God, What Have I Done?: "Neon Orange Glimmer Song"
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Subverted by The Sunset Tree, which chronicles in uncomfortable detail the abuse John suffered at the hands of his stepfather.
  • New Sound Album: Tallahassee.
  • No Accounting for Taste: The Alpha Couple shares a love of alcohol and self-hatred and that is about all that keeps them together.
  • Non-Appearing Title: More often than not, really.
  • Not Christian Rock: Most notably on The Life of the World to Come, on which every track is named after a Bible verse, but spiritual and religious themes are pretty common Mountain Goats fare.
  • Ode to Intoxication: Plenty on The Sunset Tree.
    • "You're in Maya" and much of Tallahassee as well.
  • Old Shame: Taboo VI: The Homecoming in parts, apparently.
  • One of Us: John is an outspoken fan of video games, trashy TV and obscure death metal.
  • The Oner: The video for "Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace"
    • Also, the entirety of the film version of "The Life Of The World To Come", which features Darnielle playing songs from the album in an empty auditorium, directed by Rian Johnson of Brick and The Brothers Bloom.
  • The Perfect Crime: "Insurance Fraud #2." Or is it...
  • Perspective Flip: "Thank You Mario, But Our Princess Is in Another Castle" is from the point of view of Toad, waiting to be rescued.
  • Power Fantasy: "Lion's Teeth," a revenge fantasy.
  • Precision F-Strike: The albums are pretty clean, but live versions have been known to get punched up from time to time.
  • Protest Song: "Down to the Ark" characterizes the primary voting process in the United States as a Satanic ritual. Yes, really.
  • Pyromaniac: "Psalms 40:2" is about an arsonist realizing his actions are his only meaningful connection to God.
  • Raised Catholic: Though in practice he's a spiritual agnostic, Darnielle considers himself "culturally Catholic."
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • Now that John has a regular backing band, a lot of the earlier acoustic-and-voice stuff gets reinterpreted with a rhythm section.
    • The cello-only "Dilaudid" becomes a three-piece rocker live.
    • Despite the original frenetic recording, the slow version of "Alpha Omega" seems to be the canonical one.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: "Wild Sage" is a breakup song between a guy and his mind.
    • "Lovecraft in Brooklyn" and "In the Craters on the Moon", too.
  • Satan: The serpent in the Garden of Eden mourns his lot in "Supergenesis." While both "How To Embrace A Swamp Creature" and "Cobra Tattoo" relate the protagonists to the same serpent.
    • "The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton"


  • Shout-Out: The chorus of "Enoch 18:14" is cutscene dialogue from Odin Sphere.
    • "The Fall of the Star High School Running Back" gives one to the Notorious B.I.G.
  • Shower of Angst: "Maybe Sprout Wings"
  • Shown Their Work: The Bible verses cited in the titles of the songs on The Life of the World to Come.
  • Silly Love Songs: Subverted rather amusingly in "Stars Fell on Alabama".
  • Slap Slap Kiss: Some songs involving the Alpha couple you can't quite tell whether the lyrics are describing them trying to kill eachother, or having a vicious love session, or both.
  • Something Blues: "Dutch Orchestra Blues," "International Small Arms Traffic Blues," "Jam Eater Blues," "Jeff Davis County Blues," "New World Emerging Blues," "Transjordanian Blues."
  • Stalker with a Crush: Darnielle admits he leaned on this trope pretty heavily in his youth, but now actively avoids it.
    • Inverted with "Distant Stations" which John describes to be about a would-be stalker who never actually gets the nerve to venture very far.
    • Played straight with songs like "The Garden Song" and "Standard Bitter Love Song #8"
  • Stop and Go: "See America Right."
  • Subdued Section: "In the Craters on the Moon."
  • Textless Album Cover: Averted a lot in the pre-4AD era.
  • The Power of Rock: "The best ever death metal band out of Denton will, in time, both outpace and outlive you. HAIL SATAN!"
  • Three Chords and the Truth
    • Lampshaped in "You Were Cool"

 These are the same four chords

I use most of the time

When I've got something on my mind

  • Throw It In: The tape hiss and gear grind of the boombox era. The train passing by at the end of "Insurance Fraud #2."
  • Tranquil Fury: "Ox Baker Triumphant"
  • The Something Song: "Anti-Music Song." "The Black Ice Cream Song." "California Song." "Chinese Rifle Song." "Island Garden Song." "The Monkey Song." "Neon Orange Glimmer Song." "Pseudothyrum Song." "Shadow Song." "Song for an Old Friend." "Stable Boy Song." "Standard Bitter Love Song" #1-8. "Song for Cleomenes," "Song for Dana Plato," "Song for Dennis Brown," "Song for Lonely Giants," "Song for My Stepfather," "Song for the Julian Calendar," "Song for Tura Santana"...
  • What Could Have Been: The aforementioned completed-but-unreleased Hail and Farewell, Gothenburg and West Texas Orphans. Heretic Pride was going to be a concept album entirely about monsters. The album version of "Lovecraft in Brooklyn" was supposed to feature Aesop Rock rapping over the end; Aesop eventually released a remix.
  • What Do You Mean Its Not Awesome: "But in the long tresses of your hair...I AM A BABBLING BROOOOOOOOOOOK"
  • With Friends Like These...: Refered to in "Game Shows Touch Our Lives." "They say that friends don't destroy one another. What do they know about friends?"
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Averted, hard.
  • Word of God: John was quick to clarify that "Marduk T-Shirt Men's Room Incident" was not from the perspective of a rapist.
  • Your Cheating Heart: "Alibi." "Houseguest." "Going To Maine." the Mountain Goats are a special case in that infidelity is rarely directly condoned or condemned.