The Mountain Goats' May release, Goths, name-checks Siouxsie and the Banshees, Andrew Eldritch (The Sisters of Mercy) and Robert Smith, among others. But for an album that reflects on the icons and artifacts of morose-to-grandiose goth culture, some of its songs can seem positively cheery.
Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle says he gets a lot of pleasure out of subverting musical expectations, such as pairing melancholy lyrics with a song in a major key.
"I don't think [songs in] major keys are cheerful, necessarily ... but we do get this idea early on that minor key means scary, or sad, and major means happy or chipper," he says. "I'm always wanting to sort of interrogate that idea." As an example, he cites "No Children," the jaunty tune from 2002's Talla-hassee in which a man cheerfully informs his wife how much he wishes they'd both die.
The Mountain Goats performs at Republic Friday, returning to New Orleans for the first time since 2012.
Fans of the band will find Goths is, in some ways, a departure from the guitar-driven indie storytelling that catapulted the group to acclaim. Lyrically, it's compatible with much of the band's previous work — literary, ruminative, conceptual — but Goths' songs also go in new directions.
Billed as an album with "no guitars," Darnielle says the record's sound was influenced by new band member and musical polymath Matt Douglas, who helped with arrangements for several songs on 2015's Beat the Champ. Douglas joined the band on tour following the release of that record and became a permanent member.
"He just immediately felt like a member of the family," Darnielle says. "[On Goths], he's in there doing his thing with woodwinds ... [the song] 'Unicorn Tolerance,' that's all him, all the flutes and clarinets and all that stuff."
Goths also features vocals by the Nashville Symphony Chorus, which adds texture and gravity to many songs — and was a source of pleasure for Darnielle in the studio.
"I'd just sort of stand there and play-act conductor, which is a great luxury. ... [but] any choral arrangement inestimably dignifies a piece of music that it comes to," he says. "You think of The Rolling Stones' 'You Can't Always Get What You Want.' I think they were doing that partly to be funny, but at the beginning of the song you think 'This is going to be a serious good one.' And if it's not a good one, what are all these people singing on it for?"
It has been a busy year on the road for Darnielle, who recently wrapped a book tour for his family-dynamics ghost-story novel Universal Harvester.
Darnielle says he's looking forward to returning to New Orleans, though he has a few reservations about making too much of place.
"I don't believe in magic," he says. "Like, just because somebody recorded 'Stairway to Heaven' in another studio, that doesn't mean you're going to get any of that vibe when you're there. But at the same time, if you go to New Orleans ... you get this vibe, like, somebody did something really cool here. People have been playing amazing music there, every day, for God knows how long."