Release Date: Oct 6, 2009
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
If you’re familiar with John Darnielle (and by “John Darnielle” I mean “the Mountain Goats”, no offence to Peter Hughes or Jon Wurster or anyone else) it probably won’t seem odd that the album The Life of the World to Come reminds me of is 2004’s We Shall All Be Healed. The latter, of course, is a song cycle about tweakers, addiction, death, decay, self-loathing, the inexorable force of a junkie’s deceit, and possibly Belgium, and the former is, in Darnielle’s own words, “twelve hard lessons the Bible taught me, kind of. ” Not that he’s suddenly had a conversion experience (Darnielle is still as religious as he ever was; that is, somewhat so, but unconventionally), but each song here is named after a Biblical verse or verses, except for the closing “Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace”, which takes on a whole book and a description.
It's Halloween, 2005, and John Darnielle-- preparing to lead another show as the Mountain Goats-- pulls on his costume: a priest's robe. If it's a joke, it's a kind-hearted one: Most people at Mountain Goats shows know the words and aren't afraid to sing them. Some weep while doing it.
“I won't get better, but someday I'll be free / 'Cause I am not this body that imprisons me”. It seems to be an album about death. More specifically, it seems to be an album about how the notion of ever being prepared for death – for your own, for that of a loved one or simply for the concept, if calling death a 'concept' doesn't seem insensitive somehow – is laughable, pathetic, even pitiful.
The Mountain Goats are, for all practical purposes, the endlessly clever and prolific John Darnielle and whatever musicians he surrounds himself with, which means that while the soundscape may change from project to project, the overall tone and feel of Darnielle's work remains remarkably consistent, an impressive achievement, really, since The Life of the World to Come is his umpteenth album (his 16th, actually, and his sixth for 4AD), and if an album where every track is named after a Bible verse looks like it's going to be a radical departure for Darnielle, rest assured, it isn't. This isn't some praise & worship affair, but is instead a considered treatise on the use and meaning of faith in our lives, and it's a theme Darnielle has visited frequently in his past work, and it isn't the first time he's used Bible verses to provide narrative structure to a song, either. He's always done that here and there on his projects, but this is the first time a whole album from him has used Bible verses as an over-arching scheme.
John Darnielle, like, say, Billy Childish or Will Oldham, never throws away an idea, even if it takes him into uncomfortable spiritual waters. That kind of unrestrained poetic daring has served all three well. The Mountain Goats is Darnielle’s mostly solo venture; on The Life of The World To Come he's working with his more or less stable band lineup of Jon Wurster and Peter Hughes, as well as arranger Owen Pallett and producers John Congleton and Scott Solter.