Musician John Darnielle probably didn’t expect to make his TV debut on the set of a satirical Comedy Central show. But then again, what kind of artist wouldn’t want to benefit from the famed “Colbert bump”?
The Mountain Goats
The Life of the World to Come
Darnielle, the creative force and the only constant behind The Mountain Goats, was recently a guest on Stephen Colbert’s late night comedy show, revealing the host to be a huge and borderline nerdy fan of the indie-folk outfit. Despite recent mainstream appearances, the band has maintained a relatively low profile throughout its career, releasing a series of albums with little recognition outside a small music community. With the band’s 17th (yes, you read that correctly) release The Life of the World to Come, the band explores its poppier roots while solidifying its rustic sound. The result is The Mountain Goats’ most accessible album yet.
Darnielle has made a career on exploring the darker components of human emotion, devoting whole albums to an array of themes ranging from failed relationships to methamphetamine addiction. His band has perfected the art of the concept album and its latest release is no exception. Each of the album’s 12 tracks is titled after a different biblical verse, providing the framework for the record’s overarching religious theme.
The album opens placidly with a slow-strummed acoustic downer that pontificates on self-help tapes (“1 Samuel 15:23”) before progressing into a mix of pop-rock guitar anthems and keyboard-based hymns. “Samuel” is an odd choice for an opening track, but it succeeds in orienting listeners to the record’s introspective core.
While many of the album’s songs maintain a more upbeat progression, they preserve the opener’s somber ruminations, continuing the band’s tradition of exploring melancholy subject matters. By rotating between raucous screaming (“Genesis 3:23,” “Romans 10:9”) and calculated crooning (“1 John 4:16,” “Genesis 30:3”), the album provides measured diversity within the confines of its theme and Darnielle’s self-conscious lyrics. Ultimately, The Life of the World to Come is a varied journey through Darnielle’s self-discovery, relying on religious symbols to help its author tell his story.
“Philippians 3:20-21” straddles both the band’s boisterous and subdued aesthetics with a quirky but fairly low-key drum beat pulling together the song’s light acoustic strings and dreamy keyboard flourishes. Darnielle hums the track’s typically caustic lyrics in a voice barely above a whisper, professing “Well the path to the palace of wisdom that the mystics walk / is lined with neuroleptics and electric shocks.”
Although there are positive qualities to both sides of the group’s sound, The Mountain Goats truly shine when heavy words are contrasted with uplifting guitar progressions, all accompanied by Darnielle’s passionate vocals. To that end, the charged “Psalms 40:2” shines as the album’s strongest track and a testament to the Darnielle’s ability to incorporate intricate storytelling with powerful instrumentals. Heavy guitar strings and a persistently strong drum beat frame its heavy-handed words before exploding into a tantrum of musical soundscapes, illustrating the emotions transmitted by Darnielle’s screaming. It’s a classic Mountain Goats ode, and after 17-plus recording sessions with the project, it’s what Darnielle does best.
When The Mountain Goats performed “Psalms 40:2” on Stephen Colbert’s broadcast last week, the band gelled in front of a national audience for the first time. With the group’s latest triumph on The Life of the World to Come, Darnielle’s inspired song-writing should certainly win over folk enthusiasts.