Release Date: Mar 29, 2011
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
Twenty years after John Darnielle began recording albums on a boombox, his head is still exploding with words. The Mountain Goats' latest shows Darnielle's folk rock growing more diverse, swelled with strings and choral harmonizing. "High Hawk Season" sounds like Fleet Foxes reimagined as a New York street gang with lit Ph.D.s. Darnielle's lyrics here are more impressionistic, but his wordplay is always suffused with emotion.
Review Summary: Never sleep, remember to breathe deepIt has been stated more times that one can count that change is the only constant. Well, I call bullshit! If only Albert Einstein had studied the indie music universe instead of the cosmic one he would have found his missing cosmological constant in the form of The Mountain Goats. John Darnielle's creative outlet has nary evolved since his days sitting in a Claremont, CA apartment singing songs about cows into a boombox.
Notes on relevant occurrences of the number three: 1. The Mountain Goats are now a trio, comprising main man John Darnielle, bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster.. 2. The band first appeared on record as a trio on 2008's Heretic Pride, three years ago..
Textured shade hiding in shining light On any Mountain Goats record, John Darnielle’s unflinchingly elegant lyrical turns of phrase are all but given. On All Eternals Deck, the first Goats effort for Merge, they are also packaged in effortlessly clean trappings, culminating in the album’s gorgeous centerpiece, the gospel-infused “High Hawk Season.” Living in the same sonic pocket as more visible acolytes like The Decemberists or Death Cab for Cutie, the album plies far deeper waters. Beneath their easy glide songs like “Damn These Vampires” and “The Autopsy Garland” lie deeper musings about the omnipresence of evil and the challenge of finding the good in its face.
Interestingly, John Darnielle’s focus for All Eternals Deck was “mainly death scenes and downtown Portland.” With songs like “The Autopsy Garland” and the involvement of Erik Rutan (Morbid Angel, Hate Eternal), the uninitiated may expect something quite different from the resulting (and signature) dancing-barefoot-in-the-grass, sunny California melodies. Not to worry, the paradoxical, prolific Darnielle reminds us there’s dirt under that green grass, with wry lyrics like, “Anyone here mentions Hotel California/Dies before the first line clears his lips.” .
It seems a stretch to call John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats an embattled bandleader. After all, from the outside, he's been releasing albums for one of the most respected large independent labels in the world, 4AD, since 2002. The New Yorker has called him one of the greatest living lyricists, and Spin slapped his praises on its cover just last week.
Don’t you just hate The Mountain Goats: I mean just listen to that nasally voice, it’s an offense to the ears; and weren’t they once a one piece – that name is plural, you know that! And what you just sang doesn’t make sense, your music isn’t complex, or intriguing, or beautiful; oh it has the odd violins but if anything that makes it worse. This is terrible music, this is wrong... this is wrong...
“You’ll breathe easier just knowing that the worst is all behind you,” sings Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle toward the end of the trio’s 17th album, All Eternals Deck. A curiously hopeful message coming from the troubled songwriter who famously yelped, “I hope you die/I hope we both die,” on 2003’s “No Children.” The harrowing character sketches and wry declarations of self-loathing that populated the Mountain Goats’ previous releases are in short supply here. Instead, Darnielle spends much of All Eternals Deck offering comfort and lessons gleaned from his heavily documented years as a heroin addict and victim of domestic abuse.
When a new Mountain Goats album rolls around, fans know what to expect. John Darnielle's inimitable, unpolished voice. Instrumentation that never gets too grand or flashy. These things don't change. But 18 albums in, what does change – at least for me – is the effect it has. Whatever the ….
To begin with a reference that avowed metalhead and horror movie fan John Darnielle should appreciate, the music video for Iron Maiden’s 1990 single “Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter” alternates concert footage of the band performing the song with clips from the 1960 Christopher Lee horror film The City of the Dead. These ominous black and white scenes of hooded men in a stone dungeon preparing a hysterical young blonde woman for what we are to assume is some sort of ritual sacrifice are, even (or perhaps especially) with a growling metal anthem in place of the film’s original soundtrack, hopelessly stagy and melodramatic. Any believable authenticity they may have had as late as 1990 (if that was ever the intention of the band in utilizing them, never mind the original filmmakers) is further strained by the video’s inclusion of some outdoor scenes of a young man scrambling, presumably, to the heroine’s rescue, thereby establishing the whole thing as part of a larger drama.
Meticulously detailed yet poetically cryptic songs crammed full of emphatic imperatives, lists of objects, place names, photographic and cinematic imagery, ambiguously metaphorical melodrama, and elliptically sketched characters doomed to lives of regret, despair, terror or worse... yep, it's another Mountain Goats album. The fourteenth, depending how you count, though the first on Merge Records, an indie stalwart which has lately been building up an impressive roster of indie artists.
THE MOUNTAIN GOATS play the Opera House April 3. See listing. Rating: NNNN The band John Darnielle started in 1991 as a solo lo-fi outfit that centred on his voice and acoustic guitar playing is now a trio free to explore dynamics and musical genres at will. And so, despite a track list that reads like a metal album - and with Morbid Angel's Eric Rutan as one of the record's four producers - All Eternals Deck covers a lot of ground.
The year’s 2041. You flip on the TV in your spacious seaside apartment just after dusk. It’s switched to PBS (because you’re old, or whatever) and, heralded by a fanfare and some swooshy graphics, a new American Masters program is just beginning: John Darnielle, Tapedeck Jongleur. I know what you’re thinking — “PBS” and “television” would probably only still exist in the sort of Jetsons retrofuture where single-pill meals and glass-tube highways predate the internet — but is it that implausible that The Mountain Goats might eventually find a place in the pantheon of great American songwriters prominent enough to warrant primetime public-broadcasting glory? Imagine if, God forbid, Darnielle were to die tomorrow.
Those familiar with John Darnielle’s work under The Mountain Goats umbrella are very familiar with it. It ain’t too difficult to spot a song by the loveable Darnielle. His uncanny, snarl-fueled delivery functions within an anti-formula that only works for him. For 13 full-length studio albums and dozens of cassette and single releases, the guy has pretty much been delivering the same vocal melodies the same way for his near 20-year career.
The Mountain Goats are mainly a factor of one—John Darnielle—the mad scientist (a real-life former psych nurse) behind a seemingly endless supply of darkly lit acoustic indie folk (with some 14+ recorded albums to choose from). Darnielle’s wordy, robotically enunciated story-songs are sung in an oddly everygeek, slightly nasal voice—certainly more tuneful than grand wordmaster Dylan, but by no means easy listening. On his latest group of twisted tales, All Eternals Deck, Darnielle rocks between dainty ballads, expertly buttered up with lush string arrangements (“Age of Kings” and “Outer Scorpion Squadron”) and hardcore lite/acoust-o-punk (“Estate Sale Sign” and “Prowl Great Cain”).
John Darnielle invites us to follow his complicated stories for a 13th time. Lewis G. Parker 2011 John Darnielle used to walk onstage with just a guitar and joke, "Hello, we're The Mountain Goats." But with every passing album, Darnielle's poetry songs that he used to sketch roughly and beautifully with just a guitar and voice have turned into pocket symphonies whose sound has expanded with their creator's visions.