Post college, I lived in a house with a couple of record nerds. You know the type – usually dudes who have more vinyl than a human being could possibly listen to and just leave everything sealed so it will be worth more money when they die alone in their basement apartments. I don’t really mean that to sound so scathing; I had (and still have) a great affection for folks whose obsessive collecting is based in music adoration and not just hoarding rare albums. Without “my” record geeks, I might never have discovered Comus, an anonymous 1970’s Satan-worshipping psych collective. The music was complex and arboreal but also sort of frightening. Mostly, I was enchanted by the idea of some cult running around in the forests of Great Britain (or haunting the moors or whatever they have there), jamming to their trippy tunes by day and sacrificing virgins by night.
I felt twinges of that same awe when I listened to World Music by Sweden’s Goat. Their multi-layerd fusion of psych, funk, and disco is energetic enough to pull anyone in, but the mythology surrounding the band is equally fascinating. They supposedly hail from Korpilombolo, a tiny village founded by a voodoo priest, where the residents have collectively composed songs and played music as Goat for generations. World Music is the first release by the current incarnation of this project, an appropriate title given its timeless and eclectic feel, where the only rule for embracing a particular style of playing is that it be ecstatic.
Videos of the band’s live performances do little to reveal their identity; the performers wear mardi-gras style masks and dashikis. Members of the band have suggested in interviews that all of this obfuscation is a way to help center focus on the music itself rather than the personalities behind it, though the irony here is that these antics tread on gimmicky territory. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter if the folklore is truth or make-believe or a little of both, because the songs stand up on their own just fine.
I was pretty excited to catch the act at Music Hall of Williamsburg; originally scheduled for Glasslands but moved to accommodate a larger crowd, the event promised to be at least mildly spectacular – it was the band’s North American debut, after all. Two guitar players, a bass player, and two percussionists took the stage in outfits ranging from “creepy vintage clown marionette” to “gold-lamé clad fencing champion”. At first, the vibe was actually pretty stoic, leaving me to wonder if the performance was going to amount to that of the animatronic characters at Chuck E. Cheese. But that vibe went from zero to sixty the second Goat’s two female vocalists came on stage, gyrating, hopping, twirling, shaking tambourines and bells, chanting, and otherwise becoming the life of the bizarre psych Cirque du Soliel I was now witness to. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of going to psych and noise shows, it’s that no matter how long the recorded version of a song is already, it can always be longer, and Goat took the opportunity to extend the relatively succinct tracks on World Music into longform improvisations without alienating even one member of the audience or allowing for any stale moments.
The thing is, the band kept it fun. What could have been somewhat spooky or pretentious basically felt like a happy-go-lucky hallucinogen tasting. It’s true that Goat sings about worshipping a “Goatlord” but it’s also true that Goat sings about worshipping disco, and everything else is a permutation of one or both of those concepts. In the end, the show was a party, not a seance, and those watching were primed to celebrate. During “Let It Bleed” the band was joined by a sax-playing guest in a white robe and from the level of cheers it elicited you’d think Jon Hamm was under the mask or something (maybe he was, there was really no way to know).
It’s also hard to know if Goat will have the same cult following that bands like Comus inspired; because of the internet everything these days is a little too accessible, but then again it’s way easier to disseminate legend if that’s your marketing plan. Would revealing the identity of the musicians in Goat ruin the novelty inherent in their current buzz? Probably. But even if it put a dent in the build-up, there’d be plenty left over for fans of psych to enjoy. The kitsch factor barely factors in when you consider the talent and enthusiasm that truly makes Goat an interesting act to follow. I bought my copy of the LP like any good record nerd would.