The Mountain Goats - The Life Of The World To Come

Darnielle knows all too well of this pain and reclamation he speaks of.

John Darnielle

claims not to have had any grand religious awakening during the recording of his delicately gorgeous new record ‘The LIfe Of The World To Come’. Instead he chooses to inscrutably describe the album as a set of ‘twelve songs the Bible taught me, kind of.’ And with Bible verses serving as song titles, it’s hard to separate the tracks themselves from the religious parallel’s found within the lyrics. However, to view this impeccable work as simply a religious album would be missing the quotidian significance of the songs themselves and the stark emotional impact layered throughout these benevolent tracks.

The songs aren’t necessarily preachy or moralizing in any overt way, they instead draw from the rich imagery of the Bible verses than inspired them, painting vivid, heartbreaking stories about the many dignified characters that are described within. The album begins with the plaintive desolation of ‘1 Samuel 15:23’, which tells of a crystal healer that forgoes his own salvation in order to selflessly help others with his unconventional talents and wisdom. ‘Psalms 40:2’ is a turbulent rocker, with Darnielle speaking passionately of salvation from the depths granted to a weary traveler. It’s an intensely moving track, with Darnielle’s vocals growing more and more impassioned along with the driving rhythm of the song (provided throughout the record by Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster), until he’s finally left screaming about being set on high by someone willing to forgive his many sins, closing the potent track out powerfully. The mood is lightened a bit, at least musically, on ‘Genesis 3:23’, which finds Darnielle visiting a house in Oregon where he used to live, recounting some of the painful, impoverished times from his past over a lilting beat. It’s a bit of an unsettling dichotomy, considering the grief-stricken subject matter of the lyrics, but one that ultimately works due to Darnielle’s evocative, candid lyrics.

‘Hebrews 11:40’ features lush string arrangements from Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy), and helps elevate a rather tragic, somber song. The austere, piano-driven ‘Genesis 30:3’ gives voice to any difficult decision couples must face together, with the pure, altruistic sentiment of ‘I will do what you ask me to do because of how I feel about you” forming the lyrical heart of the moving song. The bouncing beat of ‘Romans 10:9’ is unabashedly optimistic, with the uplifting refrain of “Believe in your heart and confess with your lips, surely you will be saved one day” echoing the Bible verse that inspired the song. It’s an encouraging song, and certainly props the listener up a bit before plunging them into the emotional depths of the next two songs. ‘1 John 4:16’ again uses the solemn strings of Pallett to augment a simple piano line that echo Darnielle’s forlorn lyrics about imprisonment and the memories that come flooding back with a summer rain. It’s a truly heartbreaking song about loss and isolation, and is quite simply stunning due to its genuine vulnerability and unchecked emotion.

But the centerpiece of the album (and the longest song on the record) is ‘Matthew 25:21’, a poignant, profound glimpse of the song’s subject coming to a hospital to see a loved one who is dying of cancer. They not only have difficulty in making it to the hospital room itself, but processing the impending loss of someone they care so deeply about as well. The song is such a unyielding look at the pain that comes with losing someone so close to them, and is as deeply moving as a song can be, and stands as a steadfast tribute to whomever inspired the song.

‘Deuteronomy 2:10’ captures the solitude and hopelessness found in the heart of the last in the line of a flightless bird before they reach extinction, imploring all around to take a good look, because there will be no more after them. ‘Isaiah 45:23’ again touches on the last thoughts of the dying, and how the subject of the song knows that they aren’t bound by the body that imprisons them, and will finally be granted complete freedom in the afterlife, and their faith will guide them home. It’s that bold optimism in the face of death that is able to lift these songs and their subjects, exalting their spirit and their resolve amidst a world of pain and anguish. Darnielle, being the supremely talented lyricist that he is, injects these songs with compassion that is never cloying, and a realism that never seems trite. And, when the album closes with the somber, sparse piano of ‘Ezekiel 7 And The Permanent Efficacy Of Grace’, the listener can’t help but feel redeemed in a way, and that Darnielle knows all too well of this pain and reclamation he speaks of.

‘The Life Of The World To Come’ is as honest and penetrating a glimpse into the heart of man that you’re bound to hear on any modern album, and it clearly lays bare the motivations for what drives us all, and what ultimately proves to be our collective undoing. It’s certainly a lot to take in, both emotionally and thematically, but under Darnielle’s adroit hands the album becomes a stirring, uplifting masterpiece filled with uncompromising faith and unflinching determination.

Tags: The Mountain Goats, Reviews, Album Reviews

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