Sunday Music: Learning To Speak And Spell (Depeche Goats)

John Darnielle, author/columnist/founding member of The Mountain Goats, told Jesse Thorn that the thing he most wishes he had made, was Depeche Mode’s debut album, Speak and Spell.


The Mountain Goats are a hyper-poetic, folkish, alt-rock band. I always suspected Darnielle had a broad range of things he loved, but I didn’t see this one coming.

In 2016, Darnielle was recording an album in Nashville, and the studio happened to have a 5.1 mixing room (a special type of room where engineers mix music and sound effects for movies because 5.1 = “surround sound”).

The engineer they were working with let them know the room was there, currently unused, and open to them if they had any 5.1 stuff they wanted to check out. If you’re an audiophile, this is super exciting. There’s a whole world of 5.1 mixes of albums that… if you care, you care.

Darnielle picked some up, including Speak and Spell, even though he never really liked the band. It was cool in 5.1, so he took it home with him and put it on (on regular human speakers) with his 5-year-old around. As kids are wont to do, his son got obsessed.

They ended up listening to the album a lot (like, obsessed kid a lot) for the next 3 months. Darnielle started to hear the genius of it. This was a band that really had no predecessors. Plus, these hooks are incredibly infectious.

Depeche Mode kind of started synth-rock. They took a big swing at the charts when the album came out and they knocked it out of the park. They just as easily could have flopped, but they exploded.

Darnielle gushes about not just the record but what happens to the band after, and if this has your attention, please listen to the full podcast interview (on the Bullseye Podcast with Jesse Thorn). I’m a sucker for an over-excited, passionate plea for something this unexpected.

Here are two of his favorite songs from the record, with one of my favorite Mountain Goats songs thrown in for good measure.

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