Aífe Kearns-McHugh reviews The Mountain Goat's "Songs for Pierre Chuvin"
Album: Songs for Pierre Chuvin
Artist: The Mountain Goats
To follow up an album about professional wrestling, which is really about parenthood, one makes an album about goths, a disguise for being nostalgic for youth. Likewise, after writing an album about Dungeons & Dragons, about living through the rise of facism, the clear next step is to write an album about pagans in the Roman Empire getting slowly crushed by the advance of Christianity.
The Mountain Goats are known to fans as a band which began as one man and a boombox, whose guitarist learned to play guitar about twenty years in. Songs for Pierre Chuvin is the eighteenth ‘studio’ album by The Mountain Goats and one of the better things to have come out of our chaotic quarantimes.
Released in April, John Darnielle recorded Songs for Pierre Chuvin alone in his house over 10 days in March, on that same boombox which defined The Mountain Goats’ sound throughout the 90s. Any fan of the old Mountain Goats sound will adore this return to a lo-fi recording, simple musical arrangement, and some particularly esoteric subject matter.
French historian Pierre Chuvin’s book A Chronicle of the Last Pagans is the ostensible theme of this album. This academic text gives an overview of the lives of the last Hellenistic pagans living within an increasingly Christianised Roman Empire. The ten-song cycle explores the pain of remaining faithful and hopeful in a community under attack. In true Mountain Goats fashion, the album bears the fingerprints of our current historical moment. “The burden of exile/gets easy to bear/sometimes forget/there’s cites down there,”. hits particularly hard when all of us, in a way, are in a home-bound exile. Hard to be sure, though. Maybe the album is really about something else.