Last year, The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice released an EP called Moon Colony Bloodbath. It's the tale of a guard at a secret organ harvesting colony on the Moon slowly descending into madness, and it's pretty great scifi horror.
The set-up to the tale is telegraphed on the back of the record sleeve, with a short set of sentences explaining the Moon colony and its secret guardians. Apparently, scores of half-alive bodies are kept in incubators on the moon to be used for organs in hospitals world-wide.
Guardians are employed for six month shifts to watch the silent caskets, and these guards spend the other six months of the year equally secluded among silent trees in opulent Colorado cabins.
The story is told through seven songs, each a brief glimpse into the world of our protagonist on his journey from bored night watchman to twisted, horrific cannibal. These glimpses are often poetic and obtuse, only obliquely fitting the narrative structure, so my recap / review is only one perspective on how to interpret these songs. No matter how you interpret them, though, they add up to a pretty chilling scifi horror narrative.
The first track, "Surrounded," led by Mountain Goat John Darnielle, is upbeat enough, but it introduces us to the crushing loneliness of being the secret guardian of an organ harvesting complex on the moon. Our leading man is in Colorado, on a six-month isolated shore-leave from his Moon-duties. The weather has turned sour, and the power's gone out in his cabin, but he's got a generator, so he passes the night surrounded by the white noise and static from his television.
His loneliness is clearly starting to drive him a little batty. As he contemplates the silent, watchful trees surrounding his cabin, he says "let me die, surrounded by machines." Remember, during the other half of the year, he keeps a watchful eye over a collection of half-alive bodies, equally surrounded by machines but not allowed to die.
The next track, the Vanderslice-delivered "Lucifer Rising," shows the seclusion continuing to take its toll. "Call me John the Ripper tearing at your skin," the lonely man says, "some day I'll pay for this." There's a rising intensity to this song, and our protagonist's memories of his home among the "generation fields" and "ventilation domes," surrounded by "body after body, alone..." it's pretty chilling.
"Satori In Denver," headed by Darnielle, is about our hero musing while driving "technically out of bounds" from his enforced seclusion and into the city for supplies. His "anklet buzzing on his leg," he contemplates his "solitude, friend of the friendless," and his thoughts on loneliness actually seem a little less manic, a little more depressing.
Next, on Vanderslice's "Scorpio Rising," our hero seems to be contemplating the strange life of "Bobby" Beausoleil, who starred in and composed the music for the film "Lucifer Rising." He later joined up with Charles Manson. Something about this character seems to resonate with our protagonist who says, "I'm not alright, I'm really not up for the fight."
"Sudden Oak Death," led by Darnielle, is the first time the guilt-ridden watchman gives in to panic and hallucination. Sudden oak death is a tree disease, but this man thinks he's succumbing to something similar. "When the crack sounds in the wood," he tells us, "you will know that I'm down for good." He feels he deserves whatever bizarre, debilitating thing that's taking him over; he's "so ready just to fall down, just to fall down and stay down."
"Columns Pillars Steps," led by Vanderslice, finds our guilt ridden protagonist in an apparently nostalgic mood. He's recalling night-long sojourns, possibly in his life before his involvement with lunar organ harvesters, alone with his guilt; "don't try to comfort me," he says, "I'm inconsolable still."
And finally, our protagonist's enforced solitude, surrounded by silent, watchful trees and accompanied by nothing but his paranoid guilt has finally ended, and a darker, stranger method of release for this guilt has set into his brain.
He's returned to his post at the moon colony on the Darnielle-led "Emerging," and "[he's] starving but the suit keeps [him] warm." He hungers, though, not just for food, but the comfort of a warm sleeping body. He recounts, "I kick an incubator open... sustenance, blessed sustenance oozing from the tomb."
In a last ditch effort for some human contact, he takes up a bizarre ritual: not only does he start sleeping with the half-dead bodies he is in charge of, he's resorted to cannibalizing these bodies. He seems unrepentant, though. "No one's ever gonna come," he justifies, "and nobody's gonna know." His dark ritual will not separate him from the good people of Earth when he finally rejoins them. "I will sail home again, concealed among the upright walking men."
So his journey from lonely but coping to cripplingly alienated and coping in an altogether more drastic, sick way is complete.
The whole of the record hangs together, then, as a very dark, very strange tale, combining elements of Duncan Jones's Moon with the stranger, older Gothic tales of satanic rituals, including touches of the story of Charles Manson's twisted family and the hidden guilt of a Poe story.
All accompanied by the earnest storytelling of the Mountain Goats and the lilting poetic pop of John Vanderslice. The two each seem to be curating their own version of the narrative, but the combination feels like a fully fleshed out (pardon the grisly pun) descent into madness. What's most jarring is how serene and easy this descent seems to be.
The album is no longer available, as it was a limited vinyl pressing sold mostly on the tour these two artists embarked on together. But it's a fascinating record, and some internet searching might reveal some of these tracks. And while none of it is as demented and science-fictiony as this record, the rest of each of these artists' respective catalogs deserve exploring. Bonus: their other records won't keep you up at night dreading the loneliness of a secret, profane duty like harvesting organs on the Moon.