The Mountain Goats
All Eternals Deck
Mar 29, 2011 Issue #35 - Winter 2011 - Death Cab for Cutie
John Darnielle has always been at his best when working within the confines of a theme. Whether spinning tales of doomed romance or stories inspired by biblical verses, the device of focus has always effectively harnessed his strengths, creating powerfully cohesive statements out of disparate vignettes and character studies. Fleshing out his already superlative songwriting with the most sympathetic band he’s ever worked with (Peter Hughes on bass and Jon Wurster on drums), The Mountain Goats have hit something of a second stride in the past few years. On 2009’s The Life of the World to Come, the group peaked on possibly their most riveting, profound album yet, and if 2011’s All Eternals Deck doesn’t quite reach the same heights, its gems still shine among the best cut stones in the band’s vast catalog. The songs collected here may lack the narrative arc that’s been present on so much of Darnielle’s past work, but they are compensated by the muscular chemistry between band members, the seamless production (from no less than four different producers), and a strong core of songs rich with variety.
Clawing deep into the emotional depths of “hidden things,” according to Darnielle, a sense of dread and the unknown heavily permeates the record, quietly leaving bruises on initial spins that may not reveal themselves until much later. Even on the most hopeful cuts here, the feeling that the reverie within has been earned after some traumatic incident is eerily present. On “Never Quite Free,” amidst a swirling guitar line and some twinkling piano, Darnielle bleats “you’ll breathe easier just knowing that the worst is all behind you/and the waves that tossed the raft all night have shed you on dry land,” and the spirit he instills is as palpable as the scars in his parables. On All Eternals Deck, Darnielle may take a step back in terms of lyrical sinuosity, but bolsters his band’s seething intensity with flying sparks, proving evermore that not only is he a master of moods but an unparalleled songwriter in pop music. (www.mountain-goats.com)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 9/10