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The Mountain Goats – [Album]

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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Okay, let's get the painfully self-evident points about The Mountain Goats' thirteenth full-length release put to rest first. Yes, All Eternals Deck is the first Mountain Goats album released on a label other than 4AD since 2002. Yes, the cover isn't even passably interesting looking. Yes, the writing on the cover of the album looks like some sort of strange, unintelligible code that needs to be deciphered but that's impossible because there is no key so it just looks like a series of passably linguistic characters.

With the exception of the label change, these frustrating trappings outlined above are all perfectly superficial and prove to be totally forgivable as “Damn These Vampires” cracks the pack on All Eternals Deck. While no one would call the song uproarious or high-energy, it does (somehow) show the band to be happier than it has been in years; small flecks of humor (what else would you call a line like “God damn these bite marks deep in my arteries” but a gag?) that glimmer through right from the outset and continue to glisten no matter how dark or dour the music might get along the way.

Even in the first few seconds of “Damn These Vampires,” the change in musical approach is noticeable and complete; the underlying sense of introspective self-reflection that characterized 2008's Heretic Pride and the blue plate “existential questioning with a side of biblical citation” special that was The Life Of The World To Come has been abandoned this time for lighter moods that even get cute the more singer/guitarist/Mountain Goats mastermind John Darnielle lightens up. The playful vibes that run through songs like “Birth Of Serpents” (where the singer nearly cracks up and breaks character when he asks “Is this somebody's idea of a joke?”), “Estate Sale Sign” where Darnielle observes “some guy in an Impala shakes his head as he rides by/but I remember when we shared a vision, you and I”), the slightly absurdist instrumentation of “Outer Scorpion Squadron” and the positively (but pleasantly) absurd vocal chorus which dominates “High Hawk Season” might seem like exciting and foreign thematic territory for listeners who have only found the band over the last couple of years, but those who have been with the band a while who what's happening here: All Elements Deck represents a return to old powers for The Mountain Goats – and some would say it's not a minute too soon.

It is important to point out that, just because the album marks a return to old faculties for the band, All Eternals Deck doesn't rehash anything. The returning element is the energy level and excitement that Darnielle, bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster put into the songs; in effect, while the band pushes in new directions musically (check out “Outer Scorpion Squadron,” “Prowl Great Cain” and “High Hawk Season”), the return of the band to being the slightly manic, slightly hysterical, slightly romantic and slightly comical group that listeners could easily imagine accosting passersby while busking for change on some street corner is the really great thing about the album that is not to be missed.

As the record spins its' way to a close with “Liza Forever Minnelli,” Darnielle and the band have once again (re-)staked their romantic center and image (pictures of the California coastline and the joys of driving up it get called to mind quickly and vividly) and listeners will be only too happy to join the band there after the rambunctious play time they've had already through All Eternals Deck. This record is truly a masterful work by The Mountain Goats; it runs a gauntlet of sensations and emotions with all the imagery to match but, amazingly, never loses listeners along the way. That's exactly the kind of record fans always hope for from The Mountain Goats, and the band has nailed that mark again with All Eternals Deck.

Artist:

www.mountain-goats.com/
www.themountaingoats.net/
www.myspace.com/themountaingoats
www.facebook.com/pages/the-Mountain-Goats/
www.twitter.com/mountain_goats

Further Reading:
Ground Control's "The Mountain Goats – The 4AD Years" discography review.

Album:

All Eternals Deck
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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The Mountain Goats – [Album]

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Saturday, 26 December 2009

Since first appearing in 1991, Mountain Goats mastermind John Darnielle has discovered and crowned himself king of his own little corner of the subcultural landscape where form (in the context of recording media) has always taken a back seat to musical expression and elucidation. The singer has happily resided in that place and worked at building and detailing his own vision of what pop music should be and that construction process has led him from sitting on the floor of his bed room with a cheap boom box tape recorder to very ,very expensive studio confines and back again as his muse has required and, as he's gone along, he has fortified his corner with walls of strong, insular vision. He's made it all on his own; made the myths that function as the mortar that holds the place together, thrown paint up on the walls, furnished it with different musical refinements (and refinished it a couple of times) and, with each new album, he's invited listeners in to see what he's done with the place. They're always invited to stay and some always do hang around, and after eighteen years, Darnielle's pet project has assembled a pretty impressive congregation of loyal followers and disciples.

So what does every congregation need when it gets large enough? It needs a religious discussion, of course.

The Life Of The World To Come is John Darnielle's enactment of such a discussion and, as far as deciding its place in the book of Mountain Goat goes, it is a far different thing from all of the records that came before. From the very opening of “1 Samuel 15:23” (all of the songs on The Life Of The World To Come take their names from biblical verses and/or Darnielle's impressions of them) listeners will be struck by the intimate and almost hymnal quality that the album regularly projects; where once Darnielle regularly would take the stance of a wild-eyed and raving poet or a conduit for unrest (social, theatrical, literal, literary or personal – or combinations thereof), The Life Of The World To Come is marked at every turn by a far calmer, reassuring and conventionally melodic Darnielle clearly seeking to soothe rather than incite. After the last vestiges of Darnielle's ecstatic rock side fade with “Genesis 3:23” (and, even then, nothing is particularly rocky), songs including “1 John 4:16,” “Matthew 25:21” and “Deuteronomy 2:10” all press in a more ballad-esque, romantic and gentle direction that seems surprisingly genuine and an impressive foil for the previous sounds explored on Heretic Pride, The Sunset Tree and Tallahassee that were given to veering wildly between emotional forms but were never so intimate as this. For listeners accustomed to a much more aggressive and confrontational (even when he is being warm and sweet, John Darnielle's lyric sheets can often read like selections from an Allan Ginsberg novel), such a warm tonality as that expressed on The Life Of The World To Come is definitely a surprise but, as it unfolds, it cannot be said that it is an unwelcome one.

Conversely, a nearly equal amount of time here is spent expanding the terrain that The Mountain Goats occupy. While not for the first time but certainly to the greatest effect to date, the inclusion of strings in songs like “Phillippians 3:20-21” and “1 John 4:16” and well as larger percussive sounds (the production of the drums in “Romans 10:9,” most notably) build The Life Of The World To Come up to a nearly epic scale as the sounds seem to get ever larger and, surprisingly, this band that has often reveled in smaller or scruffier sounds wears the ambitious nature of these new turns surprisingly well; they lend the possibility that The Mountain Goats are capable of far larger things than the band has ever attempted previously.

With the assertion that The Mountain Goats seem to be growing even larger on The Life Of The World To Come made, it begs the question of just what The Mountain Goats may be capable of in future releases. Of course, fans have always upheld that the possibilities for the band have always been endless and only dependent upon Darnielle's own ambition and mood when sessions for another record began but, this time, such conjecture will be shared by everyone – fan or detractor, familiar or uninitiated curiosity-seeker – as they find themselves drawn in so warmly by the singer's storytelling and emotive accessibility that at no moment are they prompted to want to leave. The Life Of The World To Come is an intriguing half-promise that John Darnielle has offered; while fans have never debated the band's quality, this album implies that The Mountain Goats may have greater aspirations in them yet. It'll be interesting to see if the band follows through on it.

Artist:

www.mountain-goats.com/

www.themountaingoats.net/
www.lastplanetojakarta.com/
www.myspace.com/themountaingoats


Download:

Live, rare, outtakes, unreleased songs and more are available for free here.


The Mountain Goats – "Genesis 3:23" – The Life Of The World To Come


Further Reading:
Ground Control's Mountain Goats discography review (pre-The Life Of The World To Come).

Album:
The Life Of The World To Come
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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The Mountain Goats – [Album]

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Wednesday, 05 March 2008

If one were to look up ‘idiosyncrasy’ in the dictionary—particularly one compiled and edited by the rock press—it’d be totally reasonable to discover a photograph of Mountain Goats’ singer/guitarist/mastermind John Darnielle next to the entry. Since 1995, Darnielle has played the role of mysterious maker of music masterfully and worn the mantle well—deciding to record on everything from a cheap department store boom box to the mixing desk in a world-class studio depending upon his mood—and usually penning very autobiographical songs that seem like whimsical fare because the sentiments are surrounded by such wildly varied music and Darnielle’s own peculiar vocal timbre.

In short, the singer has begun to explore more personal and confessional aspects of his songwriting (2005’s Sunset Tree and 2006’s Get Lonely have been Darnielle’s finest forays into consistently personal songwriting to date) to critical praise and fanfare, but Heretic Pride finds the songwriter delving back into storytelling with fantastic results.

It might sound coy, but Heretic Pride is The Mountain Goats’ finest imaginary record to date as far as all of the songs being works of fiction. In thirteen years, Darnielle has been known to veer back and forth between solo acoustic performances and full-band compositions but those ideas have usually been mutually exclusive —if it’s solo acoustic, the songs remain that way for the duration of the record in question or vice-versa—but this time out, the performances serve the songs and the tempo of the record bounces back and forth accordingly. There are the uproarious, raucous moments like “Sax Rohmer #1” and “Autoclave,” but also quieter (and only occasionally completely solo but not necessarily tender), acoustic songs like “So Desperate” and bracing, tense complete changes of pace (“San Bernardino”) to give the record a universal feel—Darnielle has worn all of these hats before, but usually one per record. Here he has tempered his myriad muses into a single perspective that manages to sound balanced rather than schizophrenic because the ties that bind the songs together (speedy acoustic guitar, the singer’s syncopated vocals) are placed at the forefront with everything else added for color.

The singer states his chosen course clearly in the opening seconds of “Sax Rohmer #1” so his audience knows exactly what (to a certain degree and on a primary level) to expect: muscular instrumentation and passive-aggressive vocals are the features that carry on through the duration of these thirteen songs, with only the degrees to which they manifest alternating. “So Desperate,” “Tianchi Lake,” “Marduk T-Shirt Men’s Room Incident” and the reggae-infused “New Zion” are all about the vocals (“Marduk T-Shirt” even features the first appearance of The Bright Mountain Choir for the first time since 1996) while “San Bernardino,” “In the Craters of the Moon” and “How to Embrace a Swamp Creature” are all about Darnielle’s scrappy guitar playing that proves to be more versatile than previously assumed.

By the hymnal and cathartic ending, “Michael Myers Resplendent,” the singer has worked himself to exhaustion. He’s gone in every direction he knows and so the last avenue to take is to just be honest and take a break from the fictitious vibe of the record for a minute. “I am ready for my close-up today/Too long I’ve let my self-respect stand in the way” are the words that open the song and, by then, it’s hard not to believe it; Heretic Pride exposes all of the possibilities that have always been inherent in The Mountain Goats’ music, but for the first time they’ve all come together and the results are a fantastically rounded record that it’s easy to lose oneself in. Darnielle may have spent the last couple of his band’s albums exposing the truth about himself and baring his soul, but Heretic Pride illustrates that while truth may occasionally be stranger than fiction, fiction can be more beautiful and telling of an artist’s ability than truth.

More on The Mountain Goats here: www.myspace.com/themountaingoats

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