Mountain Goats frontman passed the time trapped at home in North Carolina watching pulpy action movies, finding comfort in familiar tropes and sofabound escapism. But you are not really like John Darnielle, unless the action movies you found comfort in included French thrillers like 2008’s Mesrine, vintage Italian poliziotteschi, or the 1974 Donald Pleasence mad-scientist vehicle The Freakmaker. Or unless watching them brought you back to your formative days as an artist, when watching films fueled and soundtracked your songwriting jags and bare-bones home recordings and in turn inspired your 20th album to be a song cycle about the allure—and futility—of vengeance. But there’s no shame in not being like John Darnielle; few people are.
“On earlier tapes you’ll find these sound samples,” Darnielle says. “‘Oh, where’s this sample from?’ It’s from whatever movie I was watching while I was sitting around on the couch with a guitar. I watch a movie, somebody’d say something that I like the sound of and I’ll write that phrase down. And then I would pause the VHS, write the song, record the song on a boombox, and go back to watching my movie. I got into doing that again; I just kept watching action movies and taking notes on what they’re about and on what the governing plots and tropes and styles are. It was very much like an immersion method acting technique.”
The resulting performance is Bleed Out, a cinematic experience unto itself. One song about preparing to exact bloody revenge begat another song about the act of exacting bloody revenge and then more songs about and the causes and the aftermath of being driven to exact bloody revenge, each delivered with the urgency and desperation deserving of their narrators and circumstances.