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The Mountain Goats
The Life Of The World To Come Meryl Trussler , October 9th, 2009 11:02

Praise be that the last album had a guidebook for its songs’ birthplaces and semantics, illustrated by one Jeffrey Lewis. God damn that this one doesn’t, and we instead have these inert biblical titles as footnotes: hints towards greater meaning that this here atheist knows she should look up and research and make like a theological D. of Ph., but can’t. It’s half ignorance and half emotional attachment to these songs (already: they have all the poignancy of The Sunset Tree stuff, forced through some kind of Lean Mean Death Cab For Cutie Machine that turns them into loping piano ballads sticking pins into the heart). That is, I don’t want to ascribe any of this beauty to God or the disciples, whether or not these are songs the bible “taught” John Darnielle, as he says. I don’t want to give the believers everything, since they already have gospel music, and faith, and nice little sanctuaries made of stone where it’s always quiet.

’Cause still, consuming The Life of the World to Come in the way said predecessor Heretic Pride taught me — like a happy scummy heathen — one finds gorgeousness enough to diminish the Deus envy. There’s a mix here of Darnielle’s trademark tones, with a smattering of bright, sweet eulogies among the dark/twitchy acoustics, the queer frightened quiver in his voice singing “he has fixed his sign in the sky / he has raised me from the pit and set me high” on ‘Psalms 40:2’. Oh, it’s a Mountain Goats baby, all right. All you’d expect and then some timpani dusty as a funeral march, production so sharp you hear the ghostly piano pedals clicking back into place. Not to mention the inclusion of Owen Pallett’s string arrangements, which isn’t exactly used to full potential but is most recognisably and gladly him, introducing his high asthmatic violin from unexpected corners. So it’s as canon as a work among so many has to be, but it has its own personal charms; mainly that Darnielle’s lyrics are tinged with the grandeur the religiosity lends it, using yet bigger, heavier symbols and content than ever before, as in ‘Deuteronomy 2:10’, where the singer is cast as a “flightless bird / and there’ll be no more after me,”or a prisoner thrown to lions, or, most transparently, one helplessly bereaved.

Heavy. Thoroughly, relentlessly heavy. Praise be once more, then, that most mp3 players weigh little more than a pebble. This is something you will want to carry with you.