I am spending a quiet San Francisco morning here in this high rise building, the sun and the clear breeze from the outside coming in the open patio door, along with the faint smell of cigarette smoke drifting from a neighboring porch. I am listening to, and completely fascinated by, the new album coming from The Mountain Goats and the pen of John Darnielle.
I’ve long been fascinated by the thoughtful, turbulent, honest undertones of faith that can permeate Darnielle’s songwriting.
Lines like these intense ones from “Love, Love, Love” have always revealed a fluency in the language of Biblical allegory and wrestles with theological concepts with transparent authenticity. The newest album, The Life Of The World To Come goes even more deeply than he ever has before. Every song on the album is named for a Bible verse reference, but it is “less a profession of religious faith than an immersion in Biblical poetry and imagery,” and these songs “take their names from verses that informed or inspired them, or which, sometimes, came up against them at right angles.” I expect, and get, honesty from Darnielle here.
Genesis 3:23 – The Mountain Goats
Somewhere in between 2007 and 2009 the same stuff started happening in John Darnielle’s life that happens in everybody else’s life: some people got sick, and some people stayed sick, and some people died young, and John started doing what he does when things go south, i.e., turning to old religious texts both musical & otherwise and trying to take comfort in creeds and prayers that he can’t wholly buy into. In what friends (wrongly, in John’s opinion) thought an excessive gesture, he bought an Amy Grant box set. He learned about an amazing songwriter named Rich Mullins, who largely gets overlooked by people who don’t listen to Christian music, and he listened to Vaisnava Kirtans, and he listened to Yolanda Adams. He played hymns when he could, and he prayed the odd prayers of the faithless, and then sat down and wrote songs about what happens when you feel sick in your spirit but you’re not sure if “spirit” is really a meaningful term.
The songs that flowed out of him to make this album brewed from all of these influences converging in his time of need. He dug deeply into his longstanding love of the Bible, and tried to write honestly about wanting to believe. The songs that came out are about losing people you love, and leaving places to which you can’t return, and about things from which people don’t & can’t recover. They are about faith and doubt and the long dark hallways that run between the two.
I am completely intrigued. First listens are gorgeous, laden more heavily with piano than ever before, and most of all — what I want in any exploration of matters of the heart and soul: honesty.
The Life Of The World To Come is out October 6th on 4AD Records.