Tag Archives: Van Cortlandt Park

Top 10 Songs of 2011 – #8: “High Hawk Season” by The Mountain Goats

22 Dec

John Darnielle wrote the most prescient and topical song of the year. He totally predicted Occupy Wall Street. Those are two weighty comments. Don’t worry, I’ll explain this odd coincidence. I will also profile the number eight song on our countdown, “High Hawk Season,” which appears on The Mountain Goats’ like 400th album (13th studio album) All Eternals Deck which was released in late March.

I do seem to favor the work of John Darnielle and The Mountain Goats on this blog. I will not deny my bias. But can you blame me? Darnielle seems to release an album every month and every single album demonstrates musical maturity, lyrical precision, passion, and pure awesomeness. “High Hawk Season,” my favorite song on the new album, exemplifies all of these outlined attributes. Darnielle, as I’ve said many times before, is one of the greatest artists in the last 20 years. And while crowning a singer/songwriter with a cult-like following may seem baseless, well, why don’t you listen to his music.

These are what Mountain Goats look like when domesticated.

The Mountain Goats are John Darnielle, Peter Hughes (bass), and Jon Wurster (drums). Throughout the 90s, Darnielle released a lot of low-fi recordings and his music grew from there. Darnielle is consummate lyricist and this is his most noticeable strength. He also plays a mean acoustic guitar and has a distinctive nasally croon.

All Eternals Deck, was the Mountain Goats’ follow-up to one of their best albums (in my opinion) The Life of the World to Come, which featured twelve tracks, each one inspired by (and titled after) a single verse of the Christian bible. All Eternals Deck is a solid effort as a whole. It’s title refers to a set of fictional tarot cards (keep this in mind). But “High Hawk Season” elevates beyond its supporting tracks.

Now I say this prediction stuff in jest…mostly. The coincidence is pretty odd and humorous. “High Hawk Season,” as you will see by the lyrics, is a plea for a youth uprising. Darnielle beckons his listener to “rise if your sleeping” and “stay awake” because the “heat’s about to break.” As you know, the Occupy Wall Street movement didn’t begin until September. The album with the title referring to tarot cards was released in March. Okay, you say, so what. He didn’t mention New York, right? Actually, he did. This is the last verse of the song (in case you missed it):

Who will rise and who will sing?
Who’s going to stand his ground and who’s going to blink?
Surge forward from Van Cortlandt Park like frightened sheep
Spirit throngs that hoist us high, three thousand warriors deep
Spray our dreams on any surface where the paint will stick
Try to time the rhythm, listen for the click

Van Cortlandt Park is a park in the Bronx. He was off by 16 miles. That’s not too shabby. Take a look at that powerful lyric as well. Darnielle talks of a “throng” of “warriors” standing their ground and “spray(ing)” dreams on surfaces that will stick. Now if I was going to over-analyze this like a good English major, I would say that the spraying of the dreams and paint represents the signs and words and ideas (because a painting truly is at first an idea like all things), and the sticky surface would be the media that lapped up the coverage like a thirsty dog. The lyric is humorously on target. And, yes, you can say he was inspired by the Middle Eastern civilian rebellions, but, come on, he mentions New York.

The song itself is also memorable. It features barbershop quartet/monk-like background singers that provide this religiously lachrymose backdrop. Darnielle sings the verse in a very observational tone, as if he is simply explaining what is going on. The call-and-response chorus is a treat. I feel as if I can imagine Darnielle singing this in some tenebrous dystopia where, I don’t know, “the heat’s about it break.” The song remains entertaining but somewhat complacent until after the two minute mark where a light shines on Darnielle and he belts out the chorus like a call to action.

“Rise if your sleeping, stay awake. We are young supernovas and the heat’s about to break.”

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