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The Mountain Goats

The Life of the World to Come

[4AD; 2009]

By ; November 18, 2009 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

The Life of the World to Come, the latest effort from The Mountain Goats, is much closer in sound to 2006’s Get Lonely than last year’s assertory Heretic Pride. Get Lonely was far too laid back for many and was met with sharply mixed reviews. Interestingly enough, the equally gentle The Life Of The World To Come has been met with general praise. Composed of 12 songs titled after and influenced by bible verses, The Life of the World to Come cuts deeply in a way that possibly no Mountain Goats record has to date. Not only is it a standout of 2009, but it is also an undeniably high point in the career of prolific songwriter John Darnielle.

While the majority of The Life of the World to Come is fairly moderate, “Psalms 40:2” is the sole track that resembles the more aggressive Heretic Pride. It is this track that Darnielle and his band performed brilliantly on The Colbert Report. It sticks out among the other songs with its electric anger, yet still manages to feel right at home.

“Genesis 3:23” feels ever so familiar, but at the same time I find myself returning to it time after time. There is something so incredibly sad about the tale that Darnielle tells – one of breaking into his old home and wondering if the people who live there now are better at it than he was. It’s a clear example of why Darnielle is such an incredible storyteller. He paints lyrical portraits and conversations that are so vivid and rich. It’s truly amazing that someone who writes so many songs is able to stray from repetition.

The heart of The Life of the World to Come rests with Darnielle at a piano. It’s where many of the album’s most affective moments take place. Backed by the string arrangements of Owen Pallett, “1 John 4:16” is amongst these key tracks. The acoustic “Matthew 25:21” takes Darnielle’s intimate lyrics to another level. It details a bedside visit to a loved one who is about to die of cancer. Darnielle sings, “We all stood there around you, happy to hear you speak. The last of something bright burning, still burning beyond the cancer and the chemotherapy. And you were a presence full of light upon this earth and I am a witness to your life and to its worth.” It is not only one of the more devastating songs of year, but perhaps one of the most tragic songs in the entire Mountain Goats catalog.

The Life of the World to Come isn’t significantly different than Darnielle’s past work in terms of the character and voice of the writing. It’s not like he’s never made a religious reference before. When the spiritual nature of this album was revealed to the press, all I could think about was how ironic it was that I had seen Darnielle perform solo in a synagogue earlier in the year. He didn’t want to perform “Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton” out of respect for his surroundings. For more than an hour, Darnielle dominated every set of ears in the synagogue, performing songs that reached far into the depths of his back catalogue. Fans screamed requests from the balcony and he took them like it wasn’t a big deal. I was in awe of his talent that night, and I have a similar feeling when listening to this astonishing record.


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