Acquired: Christmas present, New, 2011
Here’s another album that took me a long time to warm up to and subsequently became one of my favorite albums in an artist’s discography. Tallahassee sometimes has a slight edge over The Sunset Tree, but most days they’re dead even. Beautiful and tragic in different ways. Tallahassee for the tragic in the fictional tale of a dead romance symbolized by a house falling apart. The Sunset Tree, the John Darnielle’s second try at straight-up autobiography. There’s teenage bliss found in first love and there’s the terror of confronting one’s abusive stepfather in his car on the driveway and the scene ending in a standoff. There’s the introduction of drugs in the menacing strings of “Dilaudid” and then there’s “Love Love Love.” And there’s just some of the most amazing words Darnielle has ever written.
The Sunset Tree snuck up on me a couple years ago. I’d really liked it when it came out, but got lost in a sea of all the other music coming at the time. I’d just started college, and just started working at KJHK, and there was just way too much going on to really pay attention to any music with the attention that most of it deserves. It was all about consumption. And once that all settled down, I listened to this all the way through for weeks at a time until it all clicked. Until I could say “yes, this is a perfect album.” There’s something so thrilling about listening to an album you’ve heard dozens of times and noticing that your favorite songs are changing. Where “Broom People” was the track that immediately hooked me and today I think “Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod” is the crux that this whole album balances on. One of the most powerful songs I can even think of. The thesis statement and then some. It’s so absolutely heartbreaking the whole thing would absolutely fall apart if you didn’t have absolute faith in the singer. Listening to The Sunset Tree over and over again retaught me how to love music. That sure you wanna hear everything coming out and be as well versed in the scene as you can, but good lord if you can’t take time out to give the great albums the time t your favorite records than maybe something is wrong. Or maybe it depends on the person. Although I’ve always been the type of person to have favorites. To hate that response of “Well I like a lot of different music.” Maybe that’s what made me an asshole of a music director. That if prospective staff members couldn’t name like, five of their favorite bands or albums then I assumed they didn’t love any music passionately enough to be on a staff of people who were all psychotically obsessive enough to be critical. Again, maybe that was the wrong way of going about it, but it made sense at the time. Anyway, The Sunset Tree is one of those albums I could talk to you about forever. Jenny and I fell in love to this record. It was one of the albums I’d put on and we’d lie in bed and listen to over and over again. I can’t believe this album is eight years old. It makes me feel old. I’ve been living with it for so long and it still sounds so timeless. If I meet someone who says they don’t like the Mountain Goats because it’s too lo-fi or the guy’s voice is weird, I burn them a copy of this album and say, “Try again.” I’m pretty passionately evangelical about John Darnielle. I feel like his songs are my scriptures. I get out of them what Christians get out of sermons or the Bible. His songs make me feel comforted, like I know there’s something more and that something more is just trying to be the best person you can be and to be good to people. The Sunset Tree reminds me that it’s OK for albums to be perfect. That trying to judge everything by the same arbitrary scale of numbers is often folly and that the merits of any given album are often way too abstract to put into some sort of cohesive sliding scale. This is a straight-up masterwork.