i hope they incinerate everybody in it
What the Mountain Goats' We Shall All Be Healed reminds me of, and this may not be a clear connection to anyone else, is Modest Mouse's The Lonesome Crowded West. They both seem to get something about the non-coastal American West that's hard for me to explain; the way it's turned into a landscape of rocks and scrub and parking lots and districts of strip malls giving way to districts of cheap houses with desert grass colonizing their untended front yards. Some reviewer said the Modest Mouse record had a "vaguely white-trash vibe," and that's half of it, but there are plenty of lines ("aren't you feeling real dirty / sitting in the parking lot... out to New York City / to store and sell these rocks") that I can't hear without thinking of Tucson; specifically, without thinking of being teenaged and drunk and hopeless and aimless in Tucson. Maybe that's why the Mountain Goats record gives me the same feeling.
The record is basically Mr. John Darnielle's autobiographical account of being a meth addict in Portland in the eighties. They tell me meth started in the Northwest, but at least by 1994, when I met my first tweakers, meth (or "crystal," as they called it) had been a fixture of Tucson's lower strata for a number of years. Anyway, the record doesn't sound like Portland to me. Elliott Smith sounds like Portland; his folk was urban folk. Darnielle grew up in an eastern stretch of the L.A. sprawl, and that's what I hear in this record: the grass, the flatness. "I come from Chino," he sings, "where the asphalt sprouts." The way America is laid out these days, pretty much anywhere that has cows has meth. The coastal Northwest is too cool for that; it's heroin country now.
I guess what ties the records together for me is their sense of being young, hopeful and hopeless, working with a limited palette of experience. This ain't New York City; you don't get the romance of the streets. You get your tiny obsessions ("Martin calls to say he's sending more electrical equipment / That's good, we can always use more electrical equipment"); your decaying environment ("I don't know how the metal gets rusty / when it never rains here"); your wish for apocalypse ("The malls are soon to be ghost towns" vs. "If anybody comes into our room while we're asleep / I hope they incinerate everybody in it").
Turns out Mr. Darnielle is also the man behind Last Plane to Jakarta. Makes one want to go back and examine for instance his extensive song-by-song take on Amnesiac. It's one of the only accounts I've heard of someone fearing that album as much as I do.