There’s something about John Darnielle’s crooning in The Mountain Goats newest release, All Eternals Deck, that seems weary. The tracks are well-produced, smooth and sanded out compared to the earlier songs from the group; the familiar roughness can only be found in Darnielle’s voice.
Coming from the man who once sang “I hope you die/ I hope we both die” on Tallahassee’s “No Children,” the sound is awfully subdued. The vibe is eerie, melancholy even. There are no triumphant rants and very few of the spite filled bites his fan base has come to expect.
“The songs cluster around themes of hidden things and the dread that hidden things inspire,” says Darnielle on the Merge records website. “But also the excitement, the attraction, the magnetic draw that scary unknown hidden things exert.”
The title of the album refers to a deck of tarot cards, introducing the first of many references the album makes to the occult. In fact, the definition of occult in terms of medicine (coming from Darnielle’s work as a nursing-student) just means ‘hidden’ or ‘not immediately obvious.’
Every track on the album has three words, much like the three cards pulled in a tarot reading. Three standouts about the hidden darkness in the world of the rich and famous (“Liza Forever Minelli,” “For Charles Bronson,” “The Autopsy Garland”), capture the bittersweet taste of commercial success; the shadows that appear beyond the limelight.
Another notable track is “High Hawk Season.” The song has the added vocals approaching the piece as if it were an a capella arrangement.
All Eternals Deck is my idea of a great nap time or road trip music. You can easily tune it out for a calm sound to fill the silence, but you can just as easily get lost in the storytelling and finely crafted images Darnielle creates.