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The Mountain Goats, 'Training Montage'

The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle is one of the most gifted and prolific songwriters in the business, but he's settled into an odd paradox: As his subject matter has grown more ambitious and far-flung, with entire concept albums about goths and D&D and wrestlers and whatnot, the music that surrounds him has been polished to a breezy mid-tempo sheen. His catalog is peppered with scream-along anthems like "No Children" and "This Year," but Darnielle has spent the last decade-plus in a mellow mood.

If you're a Mountain Goats fan who's missed the white-knuckle intensity of that earlier work, "Training Montage" — the first single from Bleed Out, which arrives Aug. 19 — provides a bliss-inducingly anthemic payoff. Bleed Out will be yet another concept album, but its theme lends itself to a bit more intensity: "I got this idea to write a bunch of songs where they were all uptempo mini-action movies," Darnielle writes in a press statement. "Plots, characters, heists, hostages, questionable capers, getaway cars, all that stuff. Gas pedal glued to the floor. Eventually, as you might guess I wanted at least one song where the tempo relaxed a little and that's the title track but otherwise, buckle up."

Damned if "Training Montage" doesn't do exactly what he says it will: It churns and blares with action-movie intensity as Darnielle sings of dripping sweat and bare feet on concrete before throttling into a line that'll send a thousand fists flying skyward: "I'm doing this for revenge!"

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)