taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of the moment

THE MOUNTAIN GOATS All Eternals Deck The only constancy with The Mountain Goats is inconstancy, at least that’s what fans of John Darnielle have come to expect over the last 20 years. Whether it’s a concept album of the magical realism variety (All Hail West Texas) or the borderline absurd (Moon Colony Bloodbath), vaguely autobiographical (We Shall All Be Healed) or symphonically lo-fi (The Coroner’s Gambit), Darnielle’s penchant for pithy commentary inevitably peeks through in his lyrics. On his 13 th full-length album amidst countless EPs, and his first release with Merge Records, All Eternals Deck finds Darnielle back to exploring a more refined production aesthetic. The album is still swims in the same esoteric examination of static and flawed characters, but there’s a layer of gloss here that’s almost alien sounding to Darnielle’s normal output. Opener “Damn These Vampires” begins with a sonorous piano melody that feels totally disjointed from his reedy vocals, though there’s a greater sense of coherence that flashes in with “The Autopsy Garland.” It’s classic Darnielle found here, capable of unnerving you with a single, ominous line. “You don’t want to see these guys/ without their masks on” he whispers along to a creeping bass line. Darnielle enlisted Hate Eternal guitarist Erik Rutan to produce a handful of tracks, and though the death-metal influence is readily apparent, the resonance of Darnielle’s quietly strummed guitar on “Beautiful Gas Mask” is the product of being powered by an amp meant for Rutan’s BC Rich Ironbird. The one consistent flaw, or maybe it’s a strength, of All Eternals Deck is that it demands dogged listening in order to break through the surface of his often esoteric wordplay. Even then, some of his metaphors sound nice on the surface but don’t pass the sniff test, i.e. “We are young supernovas and the heat’s about to break” on “High Hawk Season.” Maybe, however, that’s exactly why it’s so easy to love him for his ceaseless output with the Mountain Goats. It takes work to appreciate, but inevitably, you will appreciate it.


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