In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking songs about specific states.
The Mountain Goats, “Minnesota” (1997)
John Darnielle was a roving troubadour of sorts on Full Force Galesburg, his 1997 collection of lo-fi recordings. The song titles take him all over the world, from a revelation in “Ontario,” to a “Weekend In Western Illinois” followed by an “Evening In Stalingrad.” But before he learns that, surprisingly enough, “It’s All Here In Brownsville,” Darnielle makes a stop in “Minnesota” to ponder a waning love affair.
Darnielle’s acoustic intro is preceded by the familiar sound of the cassette tape whirring into place to take dictation of his latest romantic disappointment. His description of a humid summer afternoon is at odds with the state of his relationship—“the house is throbbing and the heat keeps coming,” but his lover’s passion has already begun to cool. The air is thick, more likely with doubt than desire, despite the fact that he “keeps looking at you.”
He finds packets of seeds in the mail, which have come all the way from Holland, emblazoned with the Dutch language he finds “wonderful and strange.” The packets are filled with a sense of promise that seems to be missing from his relationship, so he spreads the seeds in their yard and immediately waters them. He marvels at a residue of “blood, milk, and oil,” which symbolizes everything they’ve already put into the relationship.
There seems to be a breakdown in communication, as his lover begins to sing in Dutch, an “old and fragile” song that he recognizes if not quite understands. But because it’s one that he hasn’t heard “in so long,” it gives him hope. “We may throw the windows open later,” he suggests, possibly to air their grievances. When he tells his lover “we are not as far west as we suppose we are,” he sounds even more optimistic that the sun hasn’t set on their relationship. As the night and shadows fall, “there’s something waiting for us in the hot, wet air,” suggesting that Darnielle isn’t the only one who’s feeling hopeful again.