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The Mountain Goats - In League With Dragons Music Album Reviews

John Darnielle explores the humanity of wizards, sports legends, Ozzy Osbourne, and other folk heroes and beacons of hope.
“Old wizards and old athletes are the same,” John Darnielle said during a Facebook live stream at the headquarters of Wizards of the Coast, the game company that owns Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. He was there to announce the latest record from the Mountain Goats, In League With Dragons, and his rhetoric was appropriately fanciful: “They were once magic,” he offered by way of explanation.

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Black Belt Eagle Scout - Mother of My Children Music Album Reviews

Written as her loved ones protested at Standing Rock, during the dissolution of a queer romance, and after the death of a beloved mentor, Katherine Paul’s debut is a work of intersectional mourning.

Mother of My Children, the debut album from Katherine Paul’s Black Belt Eagle Scout project, is a collection of pensive rock songs saturated with an oceanic mood. Recorded in the depths of winter, near the singer-songwriter’s hometown in northwestern Washington, it gets its drama from mists and crashing waves—a lush rhythmic force of unruly drums, distorted guitars—with Paul’s voice surfing above it all. Transparent but weathered, her sound has a beach-glass blurriness befitting an album devoted to many forms of loss and mourning that unfolds in moving, hazy episodes. In each one, she rushes towards the elements of her life that have a salt-water sting to them, approaching every one of them with anthemic conviction.

Paul grew up on Puget Sound, on a small reservation called the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. Steeped in intertwined musical and spiritual heritage, her family started teaching her Coast Salish music, drumming, and jingle dress dance as soon as she was old enough to make memories. From there, her musical education expanded across the 70-mile coastal stretch connecting Seattle with her hometown: As a teenager, she taught herself to play guitar and drums from bootleg Hole and Nirvana VHS tapes.

Paul stitched her first album together from a series of heartbreaks. The title song begins with vocals that seem to echo through a vortex. She repeats “without you” enough times to pluck out the phrase’s unique sadness. Like the other tracks on the record, this one was written as her family and friends protested at Standing Rock, during the dissolution of a relationship with the first woman she loved, and after the passing of her beloved mentor Geneviève Castrée, the illustrator and musician (whose death was also the subject of a pair of albums by Castrée’s widower, Phil Elverum of [Mount Eerie](https://pitchfork.com/artists/2919-mount-eerie/). A work of intersectional mourning—queer, indigenous, feminist—Mother of My Children doesn’t compartmentalize these compounding losses.

Specifically, Paul doesn’t draw sharp distinctions between sorrow that is political and sorrow that is personal. Her first single, “Soft Stud” (a track guaranteed to make queer hearts skip a beat), pulses with one person’s specific lust as she navigates a queer community rife with “open, overcrowded love.” The song deserves an award for how deftly it captures the frustrated, wavering intimacies of open relationships.Its lyrics are direct—“Need you, want you, I know you’re taken”—but there’s a layer of discretion in Paul’s delivery. It wasn’t written to be heard by the subject; it exists for the singer’s own purposes. Her insistent guitar and her noble, self-abnegating retreat as the song progresses only add to its potency.

There are confrontational moments on the album. In “Indians Never Die,” Paul questions an oblivious colonizer with chilling calm: “Do you ever notice what’s around you? When it’s all right under our skin?” She is almost furious on “Just Lie Down,” whose distortion and feedback are the aural equivalent of clenched fists. No matter how it’s expressed, her anger throughout the record comes across as righteous. By the closer, “Sam, a Dream,” Paul is ready to blink away her weariness, finding new momentum in its churning energy and static drums.

Mother of My Children is particularly elegant in the way it demonstrates how grief and love share space when something precious is taken from you, how the distinction between those emotions can blur. Paul embeds her coded wisdom in elemental language, refusing to differentiate between forms of heartbreak. But there’s truth behind her vagueness: You can get hit with more than one tragedy at a time; life doesn’t dole them out in distinct chapters. Paul’s project is to show the enormity of this undifferentiated mountain of loss, and to find a way beyond it. If a river dries up, mourning it doesn’t create a new river. It creates a memory where the river used to be, a monument of loyalty to what was lost.


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