I don’t really care that I first listened to the Mountain Goats’ “All Hail West Texas” 13 years after it was released. I’m not afraid to admit that I didn’t simply “discover” this album- a friend suggested it to me after I mentioned my love of the far-flung western corners of my state. And although I know I’m uneducated in all things Mountain Goats- I’ve only listened to two other albums of theirs all the way through- there’s just no way that they’ve made anything superior to “All Hail West Texas”. This album is a goddamn masterpiece and I simply will not stop listening to it.
I am both from and currently living in Texas. My soul grapples with this place every day. I’m bound to its wide-open spaces, landscapes that change dramatically if you drive far enough, friendly people who never fail to wave to you, proud history, and properly spicy cuisine (the bland food and sad excuses for burritos were probably the main reason I was driven out of Massachusetts). But I am pushed to my edge- or back to the East Coast, maybe- by its backwards politics, guns-and-Jesus nutjobs, appalling urban sprawl, and oppressive summer heat. Texas and I have a complicated, yet undeniably passionate, relationship. For this reason, I’m attracted to art that reflects others’ relationships with this place- and no, I don’t mean bedazzled longhorn skulls or blown-up photos of bluebonnets. I’m talking Friday Night Lights, Linklater films, and now, “All Hail West Texas”.
Why I like Texas (food not pictured)
To be clear, “All Hail West Texas” isn’t really about Texas in a literal sense. Several of its tracks’ titles reference particular places in our great state: there’s “Midland”, “Waco”, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton”, and “Blues in Dallas”, for example. I get the impression that Texas is to “All Hail West Texas” as it is to Linklater’s Boyhood. It’s not the subject, but it is a character- a vital one at that.
I just got back from West Texas, actually. Two of my high school/life best friends and I did a quintessential college road trip- complete with custom playlists, Shiners, Drake, and lots of ~deep conversations~ about the states of our lives (and boys, obviously). Trekking around the desert- perhaps my favorite place in the world- with two of the people I love most was indescribably wonderful. Although I’m more likely to associate this particular trip with “Know Yourself” and “Madonna” (don’t ask), I think the way I felt about those four days informs the way I feel about “All Hail West Texas.”
“Distant Stations” makes me think of scanning the radio when cell service went missing between Marfa and Terlingua. “Blues in Dallas” feels like nodding off in the backseat with the desert sun warming my shoulders. “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” is obnoxiously trying to explain to my friends just how beautiful yelling “Hail Satan!” at a show can be (very beautiful, I might add). “Jenny” is the road ahead of me, blissfully empty but never desolate. They all remind me of home and of a particular person back in Austin who’s starting to feel like home too. I never thought that a relatively obscure lo-fi album from 2002 would sum up my summer, but here we are. And I’m not even sorry for feeling sentimental- we’re all just good friends livin’ large in Texas.
I’ve read this post over and realized that I’m still not really talking about anything in particular. This certainly isn’t an album review- because, y’know, this particular album was ready for review about thirteen years ago. This isn’t my love letter to Texas- I don’t think I’ve done quite enough living for that yet. This isn’t a summary of my trip either, as technically Interesting Vibes is a music blog, not a travel blog or forum for Drake fanfiction (again, don’t ask). Maybe this is just a where-I’m-at-right-now-in-case-you-were-wondering sort of deal, summed up by 21 Mountain Goats songs and a couple rallying cries of “Hail Satan!”
One of the reasons why Mai and I created this humble lil’ blog in the first place was to express our tendency to keep track of our days with music and our shared need to pair each memory with a sound. So I guess “All Hail West Texas” is what’s playing in the background of this very strange- and undeniably wonderful- time in my life. And in a few weeks when I’m halfway around the world gorging myself on tapas, or a year from now when I’m God-knows-where doing God-knows-what (hopefully there are still tapas), I think I’ll be able to hear the opening fuzz of “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” and remember the flooding, the Franzia, and all the other f-words that have defined the early summer of 2015.
But on the other hand, maybe I’m simply trying to spread the word about a nifty album from 2002 that you may not have heard before and definitely should listen to, like now. It’s a collection of songs about love, life, former high school football players sucked into selling acid, discontentment, resentment, alcohol, waiting- so much waiting- magnificent silhouettes, emptiness, fullness, and Texas: the greatest goddamn state in the union and a place I’ll never really leave.
Oh, and hail Satan.