Review of The Mountain Goats album The Life Of The World To Come released through 4AD
With a recording career spanning the best part of two decades, there really isn't an awful lot John Darnielle and his Mountain Goats project could do to surprise even their most ardent of fans. Or could they? With sixteen albums already in the bag, the ever-changing Mountain Goats - now just a three-piece of Darnielle, bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster - have taken divine inspiration in its most literal form, foraging the artifices of The Bible for his latest collection of songs, 'The Life Of The World To Come'.
Having gathered a several collaborators along the way - Final Fantasy's Owen Pallett arranged and performed the orchestral string parts across the record while Paper Chase frontman John Congleton provided the magic touch in the recording and production departments - The Mountain Goats have delivered one of 2009's most ambitious, eloquent and downright intelligent albums in the process. Meanwhile Scott Solter, a mainstay on both the recording and arrangement side of 'The Life Of The World To Come''s two most recent predecessors 2006's 'Get Lonely' and last year's 'Heretic Pride' also makes a welcome re-appearance.
Not to be outdone by fellow progressive folksters The Decemberists, Darnielle and co. have scripted a record based entirely on passages from both the old and new testaments of The Bible. No doubt inspired by Darnielle's Roman Catholic upbringing, 'The Life Of The World To Come' isn't so much a case of preaching to the converted, but actually feels like a projection of formal education set to music. Aided by Darnielle's semi-whispered narratives, which often resemble the likes of Conor Oberst and even Pallett in his more familiar guise, the likes of 'Genesis 30:3' and 'Ezekiel 7 And The Permanent Efficacy Of Grace' probably won't have listeners clutching at their rosary beads or dashing off to midnight mass in a hurry, but there's still something quite transient and wondrous about creating such simple elegies to ageless scriptures such as these.
Even the album's title itself is devoured from the 1973 Roman Missal, which summarises the orthodox faith of the Catholic Church. Indeed, no stone has been left unturned in the make-up of this record and although Darnielle sounds anything but preacher-like on celestial missives like 'Deuteronomy 2:10', his obvious belief in such ritualistic passages of yore has bore fruit in the most unexpected manner, 'The Life Of The World To Come' undoubtedly usurping almost all of The Mountain Goats output since 2002's widescreen epidrama 'Tallahassee', possibly their crowning glory to date.
The downside is that at twelve songs and approximately forty-five minutes in total, 'The Life Of The World To Come' occasionally becomes too bogged down and heavy under the weight of its own seriousness but overall, The Mountain Goats can add another successful lineage to their exquisitely proficient annals.