Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck

The Mountain Goats used to be John Darnielle. For a while, they were John Darnielle and Rachel Ware. Then they were John Darnielle and Peter Hughes.

Now, they're a band. Jon Wurster joined a couple albums ago, but for the first time they sound like a cohesive unit, and as a result, this is the strongest Mountain Goats release in years. It's fucking wonderful, really. Peter's bass playing is a major highlight, and Jon Wurster sounds forceful behind the kit, instead of the weird timidness found on "Heretic Pride" and "The Life of the World to Come". Weird studio experiments yield tangible beautiful fruit, instead of knob-twiddling(see: the strings on "Age of Kings", the gorgeous barbershop backing vocals on "High Hawk Season"). The Mountain Goats truly are one of the great indie bands now, and they've made a really exciting record.

It's an album about learning experiences, which is a nice bit of meta-commentary, deliberate or not. Judy Garland, Charles Bronson, Swan the Warrior, the Mousterian Neanderthals, these are people who have made mistakes, sometimes deadly and dreadful ones(Yeah, there's a song about each of these people). These are also people who will transcend at some point, become more than the sum of their scars, their failures, and while they may never escape them, something has been gained. The most poignant example of this sort of transcendence comes in "Never Quite Free," a song where the protagonist expresses their happiness at someone else's escape, and subsequent happiness. The overriding joy comes with a profound sense of loss as it is made clear that the speaking character will never find that ind of freedom. The lovely steel guitar only adds to the heart-wrenching nature of the song, and it's one of the strongest moments on the album.

Three minutes is a short time to explain a situation and a character, but on this album, The Mountain Goats have managed to not only do that, but create a sense of motion and a sense of agency for their fictional beings.

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