Let’s be honest. When most people are thinking about what kind of new album they want to buy, they normally aren’t considering one heavily influenced by the Bible. However, this one should be your first. The Life of the World to Come is the twelfth album by The Mountain Goats, an acoustic rock band headed by the song-writing specialist, John Darnielle and yes, that does say twelfth, as in two more than ten (their thirty-fifth release if you count EPs). The album features twelve songs all titled after the verse in the Bible that it was influenced by and varying from angry acoustic rock (it still exists) with blasting drums, to sensitive piano accompanied by string arrangements by Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy). Again, yes the songs are influenced by stories from the Bible, but it is by all means not a Christian album at all. The songs are written about the stories from the Bible, not about praising God. If you are at all a fan of The Mountain Goats, this is not a surprise to you. Darnielle consistently writes about stories, mythology, news, and historical events, including everything from the Anglo Saxons, to Gaius Verres, to riots in Ethiopia in 1964, to the last day of Jimi Hendrix’s life. It’s writing like that that has led Darnielle to be named “America’s best non-hip-hop lyricist” by The New Yorker and one of Paste Magazine’s “Top 100 Best Living Songwriters”. The music in this Mountain Goats new album only adds to that praise.

      The Life of the World to Come starts off with the haunting “1 Samuel 15:23”, a song that features Darnielle and an acoustic guitar with distant, sparse drums and bass. The lyrics reflect someone who is helping others but the guitar chords and melody are incredibly somber as if they have absolutely no hope. Even the way Darnielle sings the song, most notably the line “My house will be for all people who have nowhere to go” sounds like he is pleading his story from a lifetime behind bars. Overall, the song is very powerful, haunting and almost eerie at times especially with the background percussion and bass seeping through every so often.

      The track is followed by “Psalms 40:2” which opens with edgy chords, a brash bass line, and a bass drum and floor tom that beg to let the rest of the drums set loose. If “1 Samuel 15:23” is the life sentence prisoner without any hope, then “Psalms 40:2” is the maniac ready to break his ass out, guns blazing of course. The track’s main chorus “he has raised me from the pit and set me high” is pretty much the main point of the actual verse from the Bible, but in the Bible it keeps its literal meaning. In The Mountain Goat’s interpretation, it is the chorus of an angry song of someone essentially manically faithful, “drunk on the Spirit, and high on the fumes”. The song builds with anger and maniacal energy, adding more and more cracking drums along the way to the ending where the song blasts on all cylinders at full volume. “Psalms 40:2” is a very strong song on the album, and showcases how much passion goes into a Mountain Goats song.

      The album follows up with “Genesis 3:23” and “Philippians 3:20-21”, two songs that have a more comforting sound both featuring a warm, happy sounding basic acoustic guitar, bass, and drums with a warped keyboard sound doing the main line. The songs start the trend of “interesting music and melodies with powerful lyrics” that the band does best for the rest of album giving it that usual “Mountain Goats album” feeling. However, “Genesis 3:23” is a curious choice to be the band’s first single off of the album, although it is a pretty good song, it is not one of the highlights off of the album. The song has a pretty catchy chorus, and some nice words but that’s mainly what this song is: just a catchy song. While that may be good enough for some bands, the best songs by The Mountain Goats are the ones that are powerful. It is still a nice song, but not a highlight for the album. “Philippians 3:20-21” varies in that it seems to be more of a song built around a story rather than a song for the sake of a song like “Genesis 3:23”. The instruments seem to be there to compliment Darnielle’s story of the passing of a man instead of merely making music and they do so beautifully with the piano, and electric guitar surfacing faintly during the choruses. It is still a comforting song, but is more moving because of the serious story in the lyrics, and the almost spoken melody.

      Darnielle and Co. are joined by strings for “Hebrews 11:40” as the intensity of the album continues to drop to a hush. The track is very quiet, a little short, and is not one of the better songs but is still beautiful musically with all of the strings and piano, especially in the chorus. The track better serves as a suegway into “Genesis 30:3” a beautiful track with only Darnielle, his lyrics and rich piano chords.

      With “Romans 10:9” the album breathes a lively breath. The song starts off with a really clever opening line “Wake up sixty minutes after my head hits the pillow; I can’t live like this”. Although the chords used in the song are a little boring, it really gives space for the interesting and witty lyrics. The chorus ventures a little Bible-ish, but it’s impossible to tell if he is being sarcastic at times.

      One of the best songs on the album has to be “1 John 4:16”. It is a stunningly beautiful song with just piano, strings, and Darnielle. The lyrics remain the main focus of the song and from the opening line: “In the holding tank I built for myself, it’s feeding time” to the second line in the chorus “But I know your thinking of me, ‘cause it’s just about to rain” they do very well in the limelight. The track is Darnielle’s songwriting at it’s best.

      The album does not simply peak there. The remaining songs continue to match that level of song writing excellence. For example, “Matthew 25:21” is yet another amazingly written song that goes back to The Mountain Goat’s roots with just Darnielle and his acoustic guitar. The song is unbelievably sad, as it is about watching the death of a cancer patient. Yeah it sounds really cheesy but with lines like “I felt the details carving out space in my head”, and “I am an eighteen wheeler headed down the interstate, and my breaks are going to give, and I won’t know ‘til it’s too late” it’s unlike any other song you’ll hear.

      The album finishes off with two piano songs, “Deuteronomy 2:10”, “Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace” and with a catchier song in between, “Isaiah 43:23”. The two piano songs again are two very well penned stories, with “Ezekiel 7” being a more somber, and weary sounding track to end the album while “Deuteronomy 2:10” has a brighter, hopeful sound even though the lyrics aren’t. Both are great songs and once again showcase how moving just a voice and instrument can be, especially in the chorus of the last song when it sounds like the piano is singing the line “Drive ‘till the rain stops”.

      Overall, the album is a great Mountain Goats album, putting everything they do best on CD. If your looking for a CD full of unique lyrics, melodies, and unparalleled song-writing in general, then The Life of the World to Come is a must buy. Every song begs to be read into, and justifiably so. Darnielle’s songwriting is incredibly moving, and done so in a unique, less is more kind of way that you will not hear from anyone else. If this is the life of the world to come, then the future has some damn good music.

-Irving Gadoury


Anonymous said...

Great review! Excellent observations about each song. But it almost seems like you're apologizing for the Biblical references on this latest tMG album. Why?

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