Love Letter To A Record: Two Steps On The Water On The Mountain Goats’ ‘The Sunset Tree’

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Here are their love letters to records that forever changed their lives.

June Jones, Two Steps On The Water: The Mountain Goats – ‘The Sunset Tree’

I would have first heard The Mountain Goats in early 2009. I was finishing high school and my teenage obsession with music had resembled a frog hopping between lily pads – from my first love, Avril Lavigne, to 50 Cent (my first concert), the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “real” punk music, something called “death rock”, post-punk, grunge, a brief flirtation with Britpop, and then this broad, folky, singer-songwriter phase that I guess has been the foundation for my relationship with listening to and writing music ever since. It was in this hazy era of baritone-voiced poets and longhaired Canadians singing about the USA’s western states that I first heard John Darnielle’s music, in all its blunt, honest, and hurt glory.


Before hearing The Sunset Tree I had spent some time with Mountain Goats albums Get Lonely, All Hail West Texas and The Coroner’s Gambit, the latter two of which were recorded at the turn of the millennium with just John and his acoustic guitar onto a Panasonic boom box – they sounded lo-fi and harsh, which the punk in me adored. All three albums were devastating, poetic, and funny at all the right times. Weirdly, my dad got into The Mountain Goats around the same time. He bought The Sunset Tree on CD, probably aware that I would subsume it into my own collection. I, however, was unaware that this album would honestly kind of change my life.


I was a fucked up 17-year-old. It would be at least a year before I realised this and about five years before I started taking real steps to get help for myself. I have had PTSD (and other resulting mental illnesses) since I was 14. The Sunset Tree is a collection of songs about John Darnielle’s childhood and adolescence, growing up with an abusive and violent stepfather. I don’t feel analytic or disconnected enough to dissect the contents of this, in my opinion, flawless album. I would prefer that you find a copy and listen, really listen, to these songs. Though our experiences are quite different, John Darnielle’s voice was the first one that really spoke to me since I was a 12-year-old, discovering emotional and angsty music in Avril Lavigne’s 2002 masterpiece, Let Go.

John Darnielle’s unique voice – that I know some find hard to listen to, mine too I’d imagine – singing so honestly about experiences of trauma, addiction, heartbreak, and hopelessness, was so necessary for me to be exposed to 8 years ago. I didn’t realise it, but my life was about to kind of blow up. I was going to finish school and realise that the huge mental and emotional stress that I’d lived with for three or four years wouldn’t just disappear with the coming of legal adulthood. I would need to get help, but whoever says that music – art in general – cannot function like therapy for a traumatised, terrified, and angry teenager, has never heard The Sunset Tree by The Mountain Goats.

Two Steps on the Water’s second album ‘Sword Songs’ is out today. Listen here.

Latest on Music Feeds

Load more