Plumbiferous Media

The Life of the World to Come - The Mountain Goats

Oct 8th 2009
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The Life of the World to Come - The Mountain GoatsThe Mountain Goats
The Life of the World to Come
Score: 93








After 15 albums and count­less num­bers of cas­settes, com­pi­la­tions, and EPs, The Moun­tain Goats have released their newest album, The Life of the World to Come, in which front­man John Darnielle’s expe­ri­ence clear­ly shows. The Moun­tain Goats, hav­ing dropped its lo-fi aes­thet­ic in 2002 with Tal­la­has­see, has cre­at­ed an extreme­ly care­ful­ly record­ed and beau­ti­ful­ly diverse album of tracks shar­ing a com­mon theme: each is based on a verse from the Bible.

John Darnielle’s voice is in noth­ing less than top form on The Life of the World to Come. Always dis­tinc­tive, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly breathy and impas­sioned, both exalt­ing and despair­ing, Darnielle’s vocals on The Life of the World to Come push the album to impres­sive heights, even fur­ther beyond the well-craft­ed instru­men­tals. An incred­i­ble elec­tri­cal ener­gy sits just behind Darnielle’s vocals, impart­ing an incred­i­ble vibrance to the album. The Life of the World has no short­age of the moments of inten­si­ty so com­mon across The Moun­tain Goats’ music, orches­trat­ed through Darnielle’s expert use of his voice to con­trol each minute ele­ment of the musi­cal mood through­out the album. Along with all of this, Darnielle’s vocals are mixed expert­ly with the instru­men­tals, such that each of the ele­ments of the album is com­bined into an excel­lent piece of work.

The Life of the World to Come is, to a cer­tain degree, a con­cept album, described by Darnielle him­self as “twelve hard lessons the Bible taught me, kind of.” It’s that qual­i­fi­er of “kind of” that makes the whole project so inter­est­ing - Darnielle also makes it clear that the album isn’t quite a “reli­gious awak­en­ing” or a “screed.” Instead, it’s lessons in the form of the sto­ries Darnielle is so fond of - and so good at - telling. The album begins with “1 Samuel 15:23,” (a verse which begins with a con­dem­na­tion of witch­craft) where Darnielle sings “I became a crys­tal heal­er / And my min­istry was to the sick / Creep­ing vines would send out num­bers / And seek me in their num­bers / I sold self-help tapes.”

In this man­ner, Darnielle has inter­twined reli­gion in the way it appears here with the some­times harsh sense of real­i­ty found through­out his work, and then again with the slight sur­re­al­ism of his sto­ries. With The Life of the World to Come, Darnielle has built twelve incred­i­bly vibrant, thought-pro­vok­ing tracks, rang­ing from the somber to the ani­mat­ed, all filled with Darnielle’s unmatch­able vig­or.

The Moun­tain Goats also pro­vide the lis­ten­er with almost invari­ably inter­est­ing instru­men­tals that always work them­selves per­fect­ly into the track as well as the album as a whole. Start­ing on the first track, with the incred­i­bly inter­ac­tive drums and rather appro­pri­ate­ly twangy gui­tar, each track eas­i­ly shows its dis­tinc­tive instru­men­tal flair while remain­ing inti­mate­ly con­nect­ed to the vocals, lyrics, and neigh­bor­ing tracks (for exam­ple, “Hebrews 11:40” intro­duces piano lines for the first time, while its suc­ces­sor pro­ceeds to use a piano as its pri­ma­ry instru­ment). From “1 Samuel 15:23,” the album moves to a track with sig­nif­i­cant­ly sim­pler pri­ma­ry lines and inter­est­ing side lines often inter­ject­ing them­selves. The third track moves to a more pop­py sound with sig­nif­i­cant­ly less sharp­ness, and the album pro­ceeds from there. The few tracks that become the excep­tion to the rule include “Matthew 25:21,” which uses a very sim­ple sound to draw out the excel­lent lyrics, but ends up becom­ing high­ly repet­i­tive and frankly unin­ter­est­ing.

The com­bi­na­tion of John Darnielle’s strik­ing vocals, the Bib­li­cal­ly-inspired sto­ries, and quite inter­est­ing instru­men­tals makes The Life of the World to Come not only an excel­lent Moun­tain Goats album but an excel­lent album over­all. Though Darnielle aban­doned his extreme lo-fi aes­thet­ic sev­er­al albums ago, he’s def­i­nite­ly forged a con­nec­tion with his new, clean­er style of record­ing. The Life of the World to Come demon­strates The Moun­tain Goats’ strengths in such a way as to con­struct a first-rate album, per­haps one of the best in their discog­ra­phy - as well as one of the best albums this year.


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