“Tallahassee” was released in 2002 by the indie lo-fi folk rock band The Mountain Goats and is the first album released by the group to be done as a more or less full band. The entirety of “Tallahassee” is the continuation of the story of two characters which frequently recur in The Mountain Goats song known as the Alpha Couple, as many of the songs that are about them feature the word Alpha in the title. The Alpha Couple by this point in their lives have moved together to Tallahassee in an effort to prevent the complete failure of their marriage which slowly falls together as they begin to drink themselves to death instead of leaving each other while their few remaining friends abandon the hopeless alcoholics to their lives of mutual destruction
A good start to the album is to listen to it in its entirety for the purpose of story. The album follows the progression of dissatisfaction leading to the cracks in the Alpha Couple’s marriage increasing all while fighting to stay together inspite of the acknowledgement of just how dysfunctional they are leading to the marriage imploding at the end with “Alpha Rats Nest”. Anyone with less time to devote to “Tallahassee” or just wants to buy singles should start with the eponymous “Tallahassee”, a slow and hauntingly beautiful description of regret and the realization that a terrible mistake has been made that cannot be averted. “No Children” is a faster paced and melodic anguished scream of a couple that would rather walk “hand in unlovable hand” into the abyss then find the strength and nerve to leave each other. “Old College Try”, while a few songs down the listing in the album can be seen as the second part of “No Children”, taking essentially the same tone and words but with the passing of “Tallahassee” creating a rather haunting portrait of despair all the while not losing any of angst momentum of the rest of the album. “Alpha Rats Nest” sounds initially like a subversion of the rest of “Tallahassee” with an upbeat tune that sounds more appropriate affixed to the cheesy love songs the album seems to be the complete opposite of. This sound quickly becomes dissonant as the lyrics quickly reveal themselves to be an acknowledgement of just what the Alpha Couple has become to each other and how little they can stand the other’s existence. The dissonance receives an additional layer considering the writer of the song and frontman for the band, John Darnielle, has said in concert that “Alpha Rats Nest” is about the Alpha Couple lighting their home on fire with themselves in it to end their lives.
“Tallahassee” is a depressingly beautiful painting of a marriage in shambles and captures emotions like despair, angst, and release through acceptance in a way that is very rarely able in music. Unfortunately some of the songs on the album such as “Idylls of the King” and “Peacocks” fall short of other songs on “Tallahassee” which can break the immersion the album otherwise creates through a combination of strong lyrics and spot on tone, even the occasional dissonances between lyrics and musical accompaniment serve to strengthen that immersion by invoking the feeling of false hope for the Alpha Couple. Anyone wanting to listen to a good if depressing story should pick up “Tallahassee” and strongly consider finding the other Alpha Couple songs, as this is the end of their story together.