OK, so one day there's a bunch of people sitting in a motel room, listening to Mercyful Fate's Don't Break the Oath on a boombox whose woofers are completely shot. If these people were all insulin-dependant diabetics then the scene might not seem so squalid, but they're not, so it does. It's a ground-floor room, and the blinds aren't what they used to be, so you can see in through the window if you get the right angle. Which is exactly what you do. Because you are always perfectly prepared for any eventuality, you have brought your camera. It's a nice camera, but like all nice things, it's capable of doing something awful, given the right set of circumstances. Here you go.
Eugene O'Neill says that everybody's got one thing they're always going to regret, but John Darnielle says that if you give people the right chemicals and enough time to themselves, they can permanently disable their internal regret mechanisms. You can only call songs “confessional” if there's actual evidence of a crime, and we will admit nothing - but we can tell you that all of the songs on the enclosed album are based on people John used to know. Most of them are probably dead or in jail by now.
Five of them once set up temporary camp in his studio apartment in Portland, Oregon, sketching out plans for their weekend and openly discussing how much they might be able to get for his stereo, were they to steal and sell it. One of them, responding either to the Muse or to the staggering quantities of methamphetamine in her bloodstream, sat herself down at John's desk and saw fit to compose a doggerel ode in praise of a speed-metal band. She pressed her ball-point pen so hard against the paper as she wrote that the words are still visible on the desk's walnut surface today. A few of these people may have righted their ships by now and sailed on to calmer waters. They may even have changed their names and become famous. There is always hope.
Armed with that hope, and with the near-certainty that said hope was entirely groundless, the Mountain Goats and a few friends locked themselves in a studio and broke the lock on the cabinet where they kept all the neat equipment. People thought they could hide the drums from us, but our man McGuire can smell drums through two meters of solid concrete. They tried to conceal the piano, but really, what were they thinking? Engineer Scott Solter rigged several Schoeps CMC microphones just above the strings and everybody got properly drunk.
What you get after all this is thirteen new songs celebrating such small victories as real squalor has to afford, and championing either the merits of true friendship or of parasitism, depending on who you talk to about it. Anger, meet regret! It's nice to know you. There are no love songs. The world has waited long enough for a record it can feel good about giving to its speed-freak relatives for Valentine's Day. Cupid! Draw back your boooow! And let your arrow gooooo! And so forth.