Album Review: The Mountain Goats’ All Eternals Deck
Published: Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Updated: Thursday, April 7, 2011 12:04
After a constant stream of releases over the last two decades, it would be easy to believe that folk-rock band the Mountain Goats have lost their touch. Luckily for their fans, this is not the case. Their newest album, All Eternals Deck, is another great addition to their vast discography, and was released March 29. When announcing the album last December, frontman John Darnielle said that "…if you have ever watched a 70s occult-scare movie where one of the scenes involves a couple of people visiting a storefront fortune teller, getting their cards read, and then trying to feel super-hopeful about what they hear when what they're visibly actually feeling is dread, then you have a pretty decent idea of what the album is all about."
Long gone are the days where Darnielle would just pick up his guitar and press record on his boom box to create an album. Although they have been a studio band since 2002, All Eternals Deck is the first Mountain Goats album where the primary attention grabber is the music itself, rather than the lyrical content. Since the beginning of the Mountain Goats, Darnielle has been known for incredible lyrics with great imagery. In fact, the New Yorker called him "America's best non-hip-hop lyricist" back in 2005.
However, this does not make All Eternals Deck a poor album. The Mountain Goats have begun to explore the power of the recording studio, expanding their sound. The two tracks "Age of Kings" and "Outer Scorpion Squadron" are equipped with beautiful string arrangements while "High Hawk Season" features odd barbershop-style harmonies that somehow compliment the song nicely. To switch things up, they even brought in death metal musician Erik Rutan (Morbid Angel, Hate Eternal) to produce four of the tracks.
The most surprising song on the album is "Never Quite Free." It is an extremely accessible pop song that still maintains that unique Mountain Goats sound. The lyrics are upliftingly optimistic, which is a rare sight for the band. In the chorus, Darnielle sings "it's so good to learn that from right here, the view goes on forever, and you'll never want for comfort, and you'll never be alone." However, the music seems to almost contradict the happy lyrics, comprising of somber piano melodies and the twang of a steel guitar. This is the first Mountain Goats album to have a strong country vibe, but hopefully it won't be the last.
The main downside to All Eternals Deck is the lack of utterly depressing songs that the Mountain Goats are known for doing extremely well. Fans looking for an album with a few great tearjerkers, such as their previous release The Life of the World to Come, may feel disappointed. However, this album is still a great set of songs. Check out the Mountain Goats' web site at http://mountain-goats.com or request their music on WPCD Champaign, 88.7, by calling 217-373-3790.