The Mountain Goats - Sweden (1996)

This is classic Mountain Goats: songs about broken (or soon to be broken) relationships, food, and flora rendered in vivid detail and recorded straight to boom box. Atop characteristically ragged and percussive guitar playing, John Darnielle works wonders of condensation, creating lively, complex characters in less than three minutes. Despite the flag on the cover and hilarious liner notes about the "Swede conspiracy," this isn't a concept album about the homeland of Ace of Base and ABBA, nor are there any covers of those two Darnielle favorites. There is, however, perhaps the best cover of Steely Dan's "FM" imaginable. No Alpha songs here either, but two more in the "Going to" series -- "Going to Queens" and "Going to Bolivia" -- and the outstanding "Tahitian Ambrosia Maker," which is something of a mix between Gilligan's Island and Heart of Darkness (beginning, "We were real hungry, half dead, when you broke out a half a loaf of sourdough bread, and in the tropical air the scent rose like a spirit"), make Sweden among the best of the early releases from the Mountain Goats. Zopilote Machine is maybe more consistent, but 1995's Sweden sets a high-water mark not surpassed until The Coroner's Gambit in 2000.

-Jason Nickey, All Music


decrepittapes said...

Anonymous said...

could you upload some chris knox EPs? not given lightly, song for 1990.. ?

DR said...

Thanks for the Pavement, nice to see you're still around, Sweden is such a great record with so many stand out lines it's just silly, here's a bit from Prana Ferox -

I had stirred up the dust on the stairs coming down
saw the dust devils swarming around
incoming sunbeams cut them apart
and I watched a shadow pass across my heart

And how about them liner notes -

'Ask the typical American what he or she knows about Sweden and you'll probably be met with a confused, empty sort of look, a shrug of the shoulders, and a stammering response about Swedish meatballs; ask the typical music fan and you'll probably hear something about ABBA and Ace of Base; ask me and I'll start telling you about the Swedish chef on The Muppet Show, who never seemed to get around to making the meatballs but sang better than all the members of ABBA and Ace of Base put together.

While our inability to attach any definitive imagery to our conceptions of Sweden may have something to do with garden-variety American cultural know-nothingism, it probably owes just as much to the Swedes' oft-overlooked skill at cleverly obscuring their true nature. Everything about the Scandanavian country, from its understatedly simple flag design to its studious neutrality in both World Wars, has been carefully crafted to lull us into accepting the Swedes as a nation of cheery blue-eyed blondes with nothing better to do than sip aquavit and eat smorgasbord. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact of the matter is that Swedes are brilliantly cunning and ruthlessly ambitious. Not all of them are as obfuscatorily fiendish as IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, who grudgingly admitted in November of 1994 that he had "naively" belonged to a Nazi organization between 1945 and 1948 (and whose stores, to my knowledge, have never played ABBA or Ace of Base over their sound systems, although they do serve Swedish meatballs), but as a rule it is wise to treat Swedish claims and statements with a certain healthy skepticism. Official statistics on alcohol consumption, for example, rank Sweden among the lightest-drinking countries in the world, but this is characteristically deceptive -- high alcohol taxes make drinking in Sweden prohibitively expensive, so most Swedes simply hop over the border to either Finland or Norway and get soused to their hearts' considerable content. Similarly, the 1986 assassination of outwardly docile Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme was originally seen as an act of senseless terrorism but is now widely acknowledged to have been an ingenious and necessary sacrifice, carried out with Palme's full cooperation and approval, in order to draw attention to the high quality of Sweden's long-underrated firearms industry. Even the Swedish chef himself, long a staple on The Muppet Show, was not fully what he seemed: close inspection reveals that he was the only Muppet to have human hands rather than Muppet hands, an anomaly whose secret apparently went to the grave with honorary Swede Jim Henson in 1990.

Such inscrutability, coupled with a national history dotted with character-building ordeals like the Stockholm Bloodbath of 1520, the Thirty Years War of 1618-48, and the Linköping Cannibalism Outbreak of 1926, adds up to a juggernaut in the making. Americans would be wise to protect their collective flank and pay heed to the warning recently issued by the Swedish rock band Whale, whose 1994 "Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe" single contained the following backwards-masked message: "We will bury you...bury you."'

Written by Paul Lucas

Negative Gordy said...


Vahid said...

Good God. I have been listening to this album obsessively for the past week. I am a huge Mountain Goats fan and while The Sunset Tree, Tallahasee, and Heretic Pride introduced me to the band, these past few weeks I have been listening to Sweden and Zopilote Machine again and again.