The Mountain Goats return with All Eternals Deck


The Mountain Goats


The Mountain Goats

4.5/5 Bear Claws

As far as I can tell, John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats has two talents: writing beautifully emotive records, and releasing them at an insane speed. The group’s last record, The Life of the World to Come, came out in October 2009—barely a year and a half ago. The prolific songwriter and his backing band are already back with more in the form of All Eternals Deck, a complex and immensely rewarding album that explores various genres and song structures.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I heard The Mountain Goats. It was the summer of 2007, and I’d just gotten off a long shift at my landscaping job. Driving home, I was listening to Georgia State’s radio station when the DJ put on “This Year.” I immediately understood the song. I mean I felt it deep in my bones.

Darnielle, in his immediately recognizable voice, recounted every reason for wanting to leave home the second he turned eighteen, just as soon as he could make it through this one godforsaken year.

I, too, had one more year before I could get away from home—from high school, from my job lifting rocks all day, from Kennesaw, Georgia, for that matter. Of course, Darnielle faced some real and profound demons at own his home, but that desire for freedom he expressed is so moving and universal that I doubt anyone can walk away from “This Year” unchanged.

I bought The Sunset Tree online the second I arrived home. I’ve been hooked ever since.

I know that’s a long story for a review of this size, and I know it’s not even about this album, but I’m telling it to explain how uniquely powerful this band can be. Their albums are almost all moving experiences for me, except for Life of the World to Come. It’s the only record that doesn’t move me in the same way. So I was a bit worried about this record, especially after Life came on the heels of 2008’s Heretic Pride, which is probably Darnielle’s strongest effort overall. Naturally, I was afraid that the band had lost whatever it is that makes them the best storytellers in popular music today.

Well, I was wrong, and I’m so glad that I was. All Eternals Deck is brilliant, captivating, and exactly the follow-up to Heretic Pride that I was looking for.

All Eternals Deck begins strong with “Damn These Vampires,” which, in typical Mountain Goats fashion, starts off as a minimalist skeleton of a song before building into a fully-realized confession.

From there, the record goes in a few different directions. We get slow ballads (complete with lap steel guitars) like “Never Quite Free” mixed together with up-tempo rockers such as “Estate Sale Sign,” bookended by the melancholy closer “Liza Forever Minnelli.” The end result is a fantastic record that never gets boring.

Darnielle’s lyrics on All Eternals are as complex and literary as always. Honestly, I don’t know any other songwriter that can pen such smart and densely-plotted songs. It’s as if David Foster Wallace picked up a guitar and backing band, but with less footnotes than you’d expect. At their best (which is often), Darnielle’s songs are stories with fully-realized, often morally-ambiguous characters (even when the songs are autobiographical). He’s a brilliant songwriter that keeps getting better.

There’s a lot more to say about All Eternals Deck, but I don’t know how important it is to discuss every detail of the record. I do know that it’s important to tell you how profoundly moving this record can be. If you’re capable of feeling any emotions at all, I recommend that you add All Eternals Deck to your record collection.