Under Review: The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

Despite his almost obscenely prolific status, there remains an air of esoteric mystery around John Darnielle. For twenty years, he’s led The Mountain Goats through the hissy tundra of lo-fi and into the more polished bosom of some iconic independent labels. For All Eternals Deck, the label in question in Merge, home to some truly notable and generation-defining artists. Darnielle, though critically acclaimed and feverishly revered by a devoted fanbase, has never quite achieved the success that other, newer groups can boast. Regardless, All Eternals Deck finds Darnielle confident in presenting a set of songs that, while fresh and captivating, sound like good old favorites from the Mountain Goats oeuvre. All Eternals Deck, inspired equally by ancient European fortune telling cards and modern American heavy metal, features some of Darnielle’s most thought-provoking lyrics, set to some of his most accessible melodies. Whether he’s cursing the relentlessly lecherous (“Damn These Vampires”) or detailing the inhalation of toxins (“Beautiful Gas Mask”), Darnielle is quite skillful at translating the unsettling into poetic terms.

If the pre-tarot cards from which All Eternals Deck takes its name are also an inspiration, then the album can be seen as some outdated vision of the future. The ominous refrain of “The Autopsy Garland,” “you don’t wanna see these guys without their masks on,” could refer as easily to faceless enforcers of a dystopian dictator as to bandana-sheathed outlaws. To compliment (and perhaps offset) Darnielle’s heavy lyrics, All Eternals Deck features some impressive flourishes in arrangement. A bellowing choir backs “High Hawk Season,” and “Estate Sale Sign” rollicks at a cowpunk’s pace. Like so many bands with expansive discographies, it’s a little daunting to get into the music of The Mountain Goats. Luckily, Darnielle’s output has been remarkably consistent over his past few albums, so his new material provides a perfect springboard into his weird and wonderful mind.

 

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~ by E. on March 30, 2011.

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