Don’t I sound like the die-hard Mountains Goats fan’s Antichrist. I got into The Mountain Goats this year, and All Eternals Deck is my first exposure to them and golly do I love their sound! It’s mostly acoustic, which is pretty campy and neat and this John Darnielle guy sounds like a nasally Colin Meloy so I’m pretty psyched. “Age of Kings” is more of a downer, so the orchestra just sounds totally appropriate. And I don’t know who Charles Bronson or Liza Minelli is, but the songs dedicated to them are fun and I just think it’s so cool for him to write a song about a celebrity I think more musicians should do that. And The Mountain Goats’ old fans are so mean to insult Darnielle enough to make him write a song like “Damn These Vampires.” Still, I like it ‘cause it sounds really cool and I love vampires cuz I like Twilight and lalalalallalalalalallalala.
OK, so I might have been exaggerating there, but the ire that John Darnielle received from fans of his raw, home-recorded past for upping the production quality of The Mountain Goats was significant enough to have him address the issue on the first track of his newest album, All Eternals Deck. Although that song is a tuneful, wry satire of such criticism, you wouldn’t need to hear the song to see that Darnielle’s newest benefits from such improvements. Of course the use of such sell-out techniques as a choir, an orchestra and a working mic all help the guy get down his musicianship and concentrate more on the tempered intimacy for which he is known. Darnielle is just as clever a lyricist as ever, and All Eternals Decks’s production doesn’t distract from what he’s trying to accomplish. In fact, it often emphasizes such points. When the barbershop quartet (you read me right) drops out in the chorus of “High Hawk Season”, leaving Darnielle alone to sneer as he strums his acoustic, it only elevates his threat that “The fever’s ‘bout to break.” That cinematic orchestra at the end of “Age of Kings” adds a sinister aspect to the song, creating a precarious tango if you will to conclude Darnielle’s cautionary tale.
And I don’t actually know very much about Charles Bronson or Liza Minelli, but Darnielle gives personalities to the vaguely remembered public figures in their respective songs that would be enjoyable for their cleverness and complementing arrangements (I especially like the “Never get away” part in “Liza Minelli Forever”) if their narratives were about regular people. Darnielle has this unique ability to write poetic lyrics that can be properly put to music. His succinctness is a treasure that warrants close examination and justifies his penchant for syllable-clashing song titles. His three-man outfit may be trading up in terms of production value, but his style is still minimalist, the core through which his honesty and acumen remain brilliantly intact.