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The Mountain Goats' "All Eternals Deck" Promises To Shine

Matthew Gumport |
March 25, 2011 | 1:25 p.m. PDT


The Mountain Goats are one of the lesser-known indie bands out there, despite creating 19 albums over the past 20 years.  From autobiographical tales of abuse - both family and drug related - on “The Sunset Tree,” to the most hopeful songs of tragedy on “Heretic Pride,” John Darnielle has written music for every occasion, yet he finds new ground to cover in the indie-folk’s band’s newest release “All Eternals Deck.”

The cover art to "All Eternals Deck" by the Mountain Goats.
The cover art to "All Eternals Deck" by the Mountain Goats.

The Goats switched from low-fi boom-box recordings to studio work almost seven years ago, but the wit and rapport developed by the band in their early years still shows; their sound hasn’t been neutered at all.  Even though Erik Rutan, a member of the metal bands Morbid Angel and Hate Eternal, produces four of the tracks, they sound just as any other Mountain Goats songs do.

Darnielle’s vaudeville-esque voice still carries the same emotion it did when it had the crackling ambience, turning the album opener “Damn These Vampires” (whose subject matter is exactly what the title would lead you to believe) into a harrowing narrative torn from a pulp novel.  

“Estate Sale Sign” shows his angrier side, with him sharing the pain of a loved one passing away.

“High Hawk Season,” an almost funny song with what sounds like a barbershop quartet made up with the only people who could ever successfully harmonize with Darnielle, provides one of the more memorable moments on the album when he shouts out the end of the chorus.

“Never Quite Free” gives the album a greater sense of closure than the actual closer, as Darnielle convinces his audience of the possibility to hope no matter the circumstances.

The album has its highlights, but the main feeling pervading it is a sense of sameness; we’ve heard this before. 

Perhaps that’s bound to happen with a songwriter as prolific as Darnielle, but outside of the songs mentioned, the rest just feel the same.  Even as listeners might struggle with the songs to find some redeeming value, we realize that’s what happens with every Mountain Goats album: it takes some time before the true highlights emerge.

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