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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