We Shall All Be Healed
I love how John Darnielle’s voice is “always” the deal-breaker for whether someone likes the Mountain Goats. His pinched, “adenoidal/atonal” whine can’t help but divide potential and actual audiences as certainly as did the voice of that other oft-bandied around non-singer/songwriter, Bobby Dylan. But to lay the matter to rest once and for all, I just wanna say that Darnielle has written more good songs than Dylan. Case, preacheth Odenkirk, closed! And track one, “Slow West Vultures,” won’t bring any new converts to the Mountain Goats’ grazing field, an amphetamined, taut acoustic rumble complete with the sound of breaking glass. “Who is that,” said a friend I was driving home? “His voice sucks.” Oh child….
“Palmcorder Yajna” continues the vein of aggro Cramps-style rockabilly that Darnielle was starting to get so good at and revved-up on Tallahassee — it suits him fucking well, and lyrical hints to ghosts and headstones complete the mood. And when that one-note piano comes in at the line about hoping that someone sneaks into his room and incinerates him and everyone else in it… Yeah!
“Linda Blair Was Born Innocent” seems more like a fugitive travelogue than a song — nervous instrumentation augments the narrative: “hungry for love, ready to drown/so tie down the sails tonight we’re going downtowwwwn.” “The Young Thousands” covers much the same aesthetic territory: nervous energy crackling through the electric guitar as surely as paranormal energy palpably glimmers (“the ghosts that haunt your building have learned how to breathe” and “there must be diamonds somewhere in a place that stinks this bad”) in the doomed house so explicitly described. “Letter From Belgium” has one of those sublime/dumb Steely Dan (“is there gas in the car?/yes there’s gas in the car”) lyrical moments I referenced earlier in my Little Wings review: “Martin calls to say he’s sending old electrical equipment/That’s good we can always use some more electrical equipment.” This shit is brilliant, lyrics as easy and spontaneous as conversation! More interesting horror references with this one being Lon Chaney. Expect Lux Interior to guest on the next record. The music is discordant and the strumming is good and violent.
“Your Belgian Things” is an elegiac ballad built around warm piano and full acoustic guitar lines, even Darnielle tones down his delivery to a more exhausted slur and coo — but twisting the knife in with lyrics about men with biohazard suits taking a friend or lover’s treasures away and laments on the spectacular mess he/she left behind. Each verse becomes darker and more surreal (glowing men, clogged arteries with information, bruised earth). And only Darnielle could make the lines “I am a mole/Sticking his head above the surface of the earth” (from “Mole”) so raw that you just wanna break down and cry. I love the feral cry of “home again!” on the anxiety-folk of “Home Again Garden Grove,” and the way Darnielle tunelessly stretches out the lone syllable of “grove” on and on and on, till it actually sounds right. The hushed and downbeat “All Up The Seething Coast” (Red House Painters-esque in sound) starts off with Darnielle whispering a portrait of drifting life (“I clip meaningless pictures from old magazines/I tape them to the walls/It’s a bad place I’m in”), before becoming an almost straight backed declaration of independence (“And all your little schemes break/ When they come crashing up against me”). Jewel enigma, baby.
I don’t usually like to recommend a song just for lyrics, but the beginning lines of “Cotton” are wondrous: “This song is for the rats/Who hurled themselves into the ocean/When they saw that the explosives in the cargo hold were just about to blow.” And they only get better from there. It’s that deceptive pairing of beautiful acoustic melodies and sad piano notes and little-boy-lost vocals paired together with violent tales of shooting a liquor store thief in the face and relief at the end of the world, so we can “see each other/The way we really are,” it’s like a razorblade in a candy apple or the final shiv to the back of the “sensitive singer/songwriter” ethos.
Ghosts and monsters and wounds and physical deterioration and wishes for death and violence people this record. We Shall All Be Healed seesaws between bruised but defiant ballads, nail-biting tense stream of consciousness exorcisms and full-out rock(abilly) with a surrealist bent.
Kudos to 4AD for the fabulous packaging. Again.
4AD Records: www.4ad.com