Published on April 7th, 2011 | by cogswellington1
The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck
*Disclaimer: Andrew Cogswell’s views should be read with the understanding that he loves the Mountain Goats more than he loves whiskey. This is significant because he has a drinking problem*
When talking about The Mountain Goats, one isn’t so much talking about a band but a scene itself. To talk about any individual release is nearly impossible without reference to the entire mythology behind it. To date, John Darnielle (under the moniker of The Mountain Goats) has officially released 13 studio albums, three compilations and 14 EPs, this however neglects the multitudes of songs released on compilations, various side-projects and other collaborations. Similarly, Darnielle’s projects span sounds and themes ranging from the lo-fi assault of fuzz of Panasonic boombox recordings (the RX-FT500 if you’re wondering) belting songs about classical mythological figures to his later highly polished studio produced songs about slasher film villains the diversity of Darnielle’s work can seem intimidating. Paradoxically however, there are common themes that unite these songs as well. All of Darnielle’s characters seem like they’re destined for defeat and they know this; they even purposely make decisions that will inevitably lead to their own ruin, knowing so even as they’re making them. And yet, in spite of all of this, there’s a spirit of triumph to these songs. If nothing else these characters survive, and that’s a testament to the very choices they make; a small victory in the face of overwhelming defeat.
All Eternals Deck, the newest Mountain Goats album, is no exception to these themes. As Darnielle himself expressed prior to the album’s drop:
If you have ever watched say a 70s occult-scare movie where one of the scenes involves a few people visiting a storefront fortune teller, getting their cards read, and then trying to feel super-hopeful about their predicted outcome when what they’re visibly actually feeling is dread, then you have a pretty decent idea of what the album is all about.”
That’s what these songs encapsulate. It seems as if before the outset of each song, some cataclysmic event has occurred permanently scarring and altering each narrator before we even meet them. Some of these are apparent as in Prowl Great Cain”, where our narrator is that of Biblical Notoriety, pondering what exactly his life will be like now without his brother. In other cases like Damn These Vampires” the calamity is less clear, what’s more vital is what Darnielle sings in response Let this whole town hear your knuckles crack.” Musically these songs seem to insist this as well. On numbers like Liza forever Minnelli” (Which coincidentally has one of the best lyrics Darnielle has ever written: Anyone here mentions Hotel California dies before the first line clears his lips”) and The Autopsy Garland” seem to have an aura of not sadness, but a resignation. The music marches forward, but not with a sense of urgency. This seems to be a result of the new direction of higher production quality that Darnielle has slowly but surely assimilated. Now every scratch is not a raw emotive outpouring but instead a somber, conscious, calculated choice, and that’s exactly what this album is. No longer is John Darnielle a young, raw man outpouring his heart and soul instead he has become the consummate older writer; more reflective and thankful for his survival. Not flaunting it as in earlier songs, but instead aware of both its costs and rewards.