The Mountain Goats are touring Europe this year. They’re a geeky band having made their TV debut on The Colbert Report and then having music from their album The Sunset Tree featured in The Walking Dead. Their song “Game Shows Touch Our Lives” is quoted in the epigraph of Paper Towns by John Green and “Used to Haunt” was played in the credits of the Paper Towns film.
John Darnielle, the creative heart of the Mountain Goats, wrote about In League with Dragons on the band’s blog. He explains how it began as a ‘rock opera’ about a seaside town and its protective wizard.
He now calls the style ‘dragon noir’.
This album began life as a rock opera about a besieged seaside community called Riversend ruled by a benevolent wizard, for which some five to seven songs were written. When I’m focusing on a project, I always distract myself from the through-line with multiple byways, which are kind of like mini-games within the broader architecture of a long video game. As I worked on the Riversend stuff, weird noir visions started creeping in, probably under the influence of Leonardo Sciascia (a Sicilian author, he wrote mysteries) and Ross MacDonald’s The Zebra-Striped Hearse, which a friend from Port Washington gave me while I was in the thick of the writing. I thought these moods helped complicate the wizards and dragons a little, and, as I thought about my wizard, his health failing, the invasion by sea almost certain to wipe out half his people, I thought about what such a person might look like in the real world: watching a country show at a midwestern casino, or tryout pitching for an American League team years after having lit up the marquees. Finally, I wrote the title track, which felt like a drawing-together of the themes in play: rebellion against irresistible tides, the lush vistas of decay, necessary alliances. I am earnestly hoping that a new genre called “dragon noir” will spring from the forehead of nearly two years’ work on these songs, but, if not, I am content for this to be the sole example of the style.