Moon Colony Bloodbath

Band: The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice
Album: Moon Colony Bloodbath
Best song: “Scorpio Rising”
Worst song: “Emerging” has a lot of things I hate about the Mountain Goats.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of concept albums; I love the format of using music as a storytelling device or to explore a theme. The only perfect piece of art is a concept album and it could be argued that my favorite recent album is one, too. 

Some concepts are more concrete than others, of course. Sufjan Stevens did two records on a broader concept of the “50 States” thing and the connective tissue in each was simply stuff about the states. Mastodon — save for their most recent and first records — only did concept albums, albeit ones that have distinctly psychedelic storylines that seem more rock opera-ish than anything (rock operas being a subset of concept albums). The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is similarly out there, but I adore it. On some level, I love the idea of concept albums/rock operas because they contain a degree of difficulty that a “normal” album doesn’t. It’s much easier to simply throw together twelve songs about general stuff (often that stuff is love, but whatever) than it is to weave together two discs about a messianic alien coming to New York.

I’m not the world’s biggest Mountain Goats fan, though I get why people like John Darnielle’s music. To recap: I think his writing can be overwrought and find his vocal style to be pretty annoying. On the other hand, I enjoy John Vanderslice’s work. Add to that my love of concept albums and the tour-only EP Moon Colony Bloodbath intrigued the hell out of me.

The record is quite difficult to locate, as it was not released on any digital music services. Sold on the 2009 joint tour of the two artists, the record features a collage by Michael Pajon. The record is a short one, an EP, of under 20 minutes. The album’s title and song titles suggest a morbid, sci-fi romp akin to Darnielle’s weird thing with metal. Rather, the record is delicate and more conceptual. There isn’t a story in the same way that, say, Blood Mountain or The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Instead, the record is somewhere between an abandoned project and a loose notion of a story. Darnielle explained in 2009:

Some of the songs have something to do with a loose rock opera/’concept album’ idea about organ harvesting colonies on the moon and the employees thereof, who spent their off months living in secluded opulence in remote American locations. Concepts like this are actually more fun when you abandon them but leave their traces kicking around, so that’s what we did.

Needless to say, that rules pretty hard. I like the space themes, the morbidity and the class warfare. It’s pretty excellent, as a concept, but Darnielle makes an interesting point: Concepts are better than rock operas largely because the aforementioned degree of difficulty is less strident.

And that’s where Moon Colony Bloodbath both excels and falls short. The songs work very well as individual pieces, but they don’t work as well together. Whereas there are no great ways to tie the album together — “Scorpio Rising” is the best thesis record of all of the record — the rest of the tracks don’t arch in the way, say, Tommy does. Being as short as it is, time isn’t as available as a double record, but works nonetheless. Again,the traces are more fun that a full-on storyline would ever be.

On the whole, the record works because of this. It’s a more interesting record because there isn’t a need to shoehorn in a song about organ-harvesting. Rather, those bits end up as more of a background to songs like “Lucifer Rising,” one of the Vanderslice songs on the record.

Nix your dirty water
Forget your resource management skills
I crawl starving down sloping colorado hills
Call me John the Ripper tearing at your skin
One day I’ll pay for this,
For now just let me in.

The song is kind of morbid and strange, but very good and very enjoyable, which is all you can really ask of a record like this. The Vanderslice contributions are the better of the record, of course. “Scorpio Rising” ends on a Vanderslice repeat of “Slow it down, down” mostly over a wonderful arrangement. It’s a big part of the record’s value, in fact. Vanderslice’s voice softens a great deal of the songwriting and arrangements. Without the fast-paced strumming and Darnielle vocals, the Vanderslice songs are decidedly lovely.

If that’s what it takes for me to get a decent Mountain Goats record, there needs to be more of this.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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