New Mountain Goats’ album surprises listeners

By Amber Faigin
Staff Writer

John Darnielle’s voice kicks off The Mountain Goats’ latest album “All Eternals Deck” like a familiar friend. The first track, “Damn These Vampires,” quickly proves that Darnielle returns as good as ever. Approachable and clever, without sacrificing creativity, the album rings with the familiar sounds of the band’s previous work. Once again, Darnielle sets the standard.

The second track, “Birth of Serpents,” mixes upbeat, folky guitar and Darnielle’s optimistic and distinctive voice. His signature lyrics sound like poetry, including phrases such as, “And let the truth spring free, like a jack-in-the-box, like a hundred thousand cuckoo clocks, from the Oregon corners to the Iowa corn, to the rooms with the heat lamps where the snakes get born.” The powerful combination of simple language mixed with familiar imagery creates a larger dialogue, and makes The Mountain Goats’ lyrical style distinctive.

“All Eternals Deck,” which is the band’s thirteenth studio album, experiments with a wider range of instruments and styles than its predecessor, “The Life of The World to Come.” His earliest work consisted of an acoustic guitar and eloquent lyrics recorded via boom-box.

Although it tends toward basic chord structures, this album jumps around, fluctuating between simplistic, minimal folk to downright punk-y. A narrative theme threads the album together, and evokes feelings of anxiety and isolation. First-hand experiences, manic rambling, as well as metaphors, pervade the lyrics. They weave a mixture of intimate stories that conjure images of people who could be your neighbors.

The track, “High Hawk Season,” comes with a delightful surprise of harmonies, a technique Darnielle has never used before. This, coupled with a bright ukulele and dark, dramatic lyrics, exemplify the band’s trademark of contrasting music and message.

The overall feel of the album is bittersweet. Darnielle’s typical introspective and articulate lyrics complement and contradict bright, simple music. The tracks can stand on their own, yet interact well with each other as a whole.

The second to last track, “Never Quite Free,” feels almost saccharine compared to the rest of the album, but resonates with that deep, human need to be reassured with comforting melodies and uplifting lyrics. The concluding track, “Liza Forever Minnelli,” leaves the album’s narrative conflict unresolved, which makes this listener eager for future works.

This article appeared in the April 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.
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