By David Colburn
Singers and songwriters have one basic responsibility: the listener must care by the end of each song. Emotion must be conveyed, empathy must be forged, memories must be made. Not all singers and songwriters are successful, one must understand that the action is much more difficult that it might sound, but those that master the task do so in a variety of ways. Some allow lyrics to freely flow from the mindset in ambiguity and focus on the strength of the melody, some allow the music to pleasantly exist as the background to the dense lyrical foreground, others work to strike a cogent balance between melody and lyrics that cannot be dissected as easily. All Eternals Deck falls, with enthusiasm, into the last category.
At this point, most know what to expect from The Mountain Goats: diversity. Sonic fervor, as raw as each string of a poorly-tuned guitar, dominates the aura in one track, while shear delicacy billows from the speakers in the next. There is a degree of consistency in tone from song to song; John Darnielle’s vocals are often as commanding and unrepressed as the song titles themselves. “Damn These Vampires” sets the dark scene in bitter language, and “Birth of Serpants” follows in a demeanor that is slightly more optimistic, yet far from cheerful. “Estate Sale Sign” bursts through in a grating energy that nearly topples over itself with each measure.
A sigh of relief; “Age of Kings” exerts passion, but remains calm, collected, and musically beautiful. Each element sways in a union that approaches a mode of tranquility for the first time in All Eternals Deck. The sonic spectrum has not been scaled, but The Mountain Goats have established a range. From this point, the listener can admire the punchy acoustic guitars of “The Autopsy Garland”, the intriguing choral influence of “High Hawk Season”, and the uniquely jazzy quality of “Outer Scorpion Squadron” in a new sense of contentment.
Lyrics and themes are inexplicably important in the vast lyrical library of The Mountain Goats, but the band is generous, the listener will never have to sacrifice musical interest on All Eternals Deck. The words are strong, vibrant, and introspective; the basic responsibility of the singer and the songwriter has been fulfilled. The fact that the music itself is equally fascinating and equally powerful from track to track is a great bonus. All Eternals Deck is another Mountain Goats album in the best sense of the word. One may be surprised to find out how much he or she cares by the conclusion.