Today (March 4), the Mountain Goats have released their grim and gorgeous new single “Cadaver Sniffing Dog.” The track is the second off their 17th studio album In League with Dragons (out April 26 via Merge Records), following the previously released “Younger.”
“Cadaver Sniffing Dog” was penned by frontman and songwriter John Darnielle on Christmas Day 2017, according to the vocalist’s records. He recalls in a statement:
I’d had the title in a notebook for several years, and had made a run or two at it, but Christmas lights and early sunsets seem to have put me in the right frame of mind to rise to the challenge of writing something morbid enough to live up to the name. Because I’m me, and favor sharp contrast, I went with something uptempo instead of, you know, a dirge.
The acoustic guitars (Matt Douglas and I playing together in the same isolation room), bass, and drums are live in the studio; the lead vocal may also have been tracked on that same take, I forget; the downtown-New-York-by-way-of-Berlin guitar solo is Thom Gill. The strings are arranged by producer Owen Pallett and performed by the Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra, conducted by Oleg Kondratenko. The backing vocals are arranged by Robert Bailey and sung by himself, Everett Drake, Jason Eskridge, and Michael Mishaw, with whom we also worked on the Goths album; it’s a profound honor to to me to have Robert and the guys take a song and just elevate it, transport it, make it cosmic. Matt Ross-Spang engineered it and Shani Gandhi mixed it; they are actual wizards.
The lyric is a noir vision of a crime scene investigation, and is a metaphor for a relationship in which there is nothing whatsoever left to salvage, because, as I mentioned earlier, it was Christmas, and, being the sort of person who really tries to get into the Christmas spirit, I—well, anyway, please enjoy “Cadaver Sniffing Dog.”
The damage is indeed “too severe,” as Darnielle sings in his ever-gentle voice, with “stray clumps of hair and blood and brain / fragments of bone in the drain.” It’s a visceral, grim snapshot uplifted by a toe-tapping beat and soaring synths.
Darnielle, drummer Jon Wurster, bassist Peter Hughes and multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas recorded “Cadaver Sniffing Dog” (and the rest of their new album) at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, Tenn. Come early April, the frontman’s celebrated podcast I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats, co-hosted with Welcome to Night Vale co-creator Joseph Fink, will provide a deeper look at the creation of In League with Dragons, even offering up demos of all 12 tracks on the record.
Listen to “Cadaver Sniffing Dog” below and peek into the Paste archives with the Mountain Goats’ 2008 performance of “Raja Vocative” further down. You can preorder In League with Dragons here and check out the indie-folk legends’ upcoming tour dates right here.