The Life of the World to Come
published: 8 /
Atmospheric, lo-fi latest offering from the Mountain Goats, which subtly merges biblical imagery with front man and songwriter's John Darnielle's personal obsessions
The track listing on the Mountain Goats appalled me. 'Psalms 40:2', 'Deuteronomy 2:10', 'Romans 10:9'… I thought I was about to have to wade through a Christian rock dirge: Saved for a new generation. Thankfully (although actually I quite like Dylan’s born again phase) this wasn’t to be. No preaching here, but rather a subtle mingling of biblical imagery with the Mountain Goat’s John Darnielle’s personal preoccupations.
Now, my knowledge of the bible is a Hell tempting zilch and I am not about to start rectifying that now, so whether Darnielle uses these colourful song titles for anything other than effect will be for those of you who didn’t spend RE reading 'Shoot' to decide.
The album is series of intimate, low-key songs usually just accompanied by acoustic guitar with occasional swirls of strings or piano. His singing is part spoken, not unlike Howe Gelb, often with a detached attitude that belies the weighty subject matter. 'Matthew 25:21' is a monologue on the death of a friend which turns into a more all encompassing meditation on life and death, using the analogy of an 18 wheel truck blowing out on the highway. This is moving, personal stuff which never descends to sentiment or overblown emotion. The conclusion is heartbreaking with lines like; “I am a witness to your life and to its worth/ It’s three days later when I get the call/ There’s nobody around to break my fall.”
Darnielle does have a reedy, wavering voice at times, although this conveys a sense of questioning and search, not least in the album’s closing, simple piano driven number 'Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace'. As with many of the songs, the subject matter is obtuse and more a matter of atmosphere and imagery that simply telling a story or stating a position. The lyrics leave me none the wiser, although as the piano fades out and leaves you with a heartbeat, you get the idea.
Some numbers work less well, the frantic pace of 'Psalms 40:2' misses me and a few songs sound a bit too similar, though not alarmingly so. Otherwise there is enough changes of gear from 'Genesis 3:23' which is lush, low key pop, reminiscent of Frank Black 'Honeycomb' era with country leanings and annunciation to the more Phil Ochs like folk of 'Isaiah 45:23'.
As folk, or lo-fi, goes the record works and I found myself going back for repeated doses. The whole conceit of the biblical does not play well for me however, though with all the cultural similarities, we can forget how strong the bible and its imagery remains for many Americans. Perhaps Darnielle hoped that rabid Christians Googling their favourite biblical passages would stumble across his songs and be converted.
1 Samuel 15:23
1 John 4:16
Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace
Proverbs 6: 27 (Amazon Exclusive)