Critical Voices: The Mountain Goats, All Eternals Deck

March 31, 2011

Listening to All Eternals Deck, the latest album from indie rock institution The Mountain Goats, is a bit like flipping through a photo album chronicling a stranger’s entire life. Each track is a snapshot—a single image, light on context but with an emotional weight that rings clear. Depression, isolation, fear, and despair permeate the album, but are always tempered by lyricist John Darnielle’s trademark touch of guarded hope. So when Darnielle sings “Rise if you’re sleeping, stay awake/We are young supernovas and the heat’s about to break” on “High Hawk Season,” it’s hard not to feel stirred, even if you aren’t entirely sure why.

But fantastic lyricism should come as no surprise to anyone who is at all familiar with The Mountain Goats, who have been spinning heartbreaking tales of love and loss for the better part of two decades. What is more interesting about All Eternals Deck is the way the band structurally blazes new territory—the album’s 13 tracks cover a broad swath of musical styles. The opener, “Damn These Vampires,” is a tightly written pop tune, while “Estate Sale Sign” is a frenzied, acoustic punk rocker. Perhaps the most unusual track, “High Hawk Season” sits midway through the album and shuns a percussion section entirely, replacing it with a vocal quartet.

But despite this one anomaly, the album certainly does not want for a rhythm section. Darnielle is joined by his longtime bassist Peter Hughes, and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster lends his considerable talent as well, giving the album a tight percussive backbone and continuing the group’s movement away from its minimal, lo-fi roots.

Unlike previous Mountain Goats records, there is no single unifying subject matter to tie All Eternals Deck together—no squats full of meth addicts, no singularly devastating breakups, and no abusive fathers. Instead, the album is a meditation on raw emotion, and how we struggle to prevent it from consuming us. And it’s all so smartly put together that by the end, you’d want to give Danielle a reassuring hug if you weren’t so sure there was a sly smile behind those despondent lyrics.

Voice’s Choices: “Estate Sale Sign,” “The Autopsy Garden,” “High Hawk Season”

Read More

Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments