The Mountain Goats

Heretic Pride

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The Mountain Goats are, for all practical purposes, the endlessly clever and prolific John Darnielle and whatever musicians he surrounds himself with, which means that while the soundscape may change from project to project, the overall tone and feel of Darnielle's work remains remarkably consistent, an impressive achievement, really, since Heretic Pride is his umpteenth album (and fourth for 4AD), and, as luck would have it, one of his most finely balanced ones at that. Darnielle at his best writes finely observed, slightly surreal, impressionistic vignettes that manage to mix life as we live it with life as we wish we could live it, and as such he has more in common with a short story writer than he does with the typical singer/songwriter. At his worst, he sounds glib, wordy, over wrought and ultimately unbelievable. Thankfully there is little of that kind of sputtering here, and Heretic Pride is almost perfectly structured, leading off with the shuffling "Sax Rohmer, Pt. 1," following it with the lovely, string-drenched "San Bernardino," and then skips off into Mountain Goat land, a world where the normal collides with the extraordinary, often within a line or two. Other highlights here include the beautiful "Tianchi Lake," which uses the simple act of swimming as a metaphor for so much more, and the odd, lysergic "Lovecraft in Brooklyn," which feels like the screenplay for a campy B movie monster flick given musical form, only, of course, it might be something else entirely. Darnielle can sometimes be too clever, loading in more than a song can bear, but he keeps that tendency in check for the most part on Heretic Pride, and the result is a wonderfully accessible and varied album that hits all the right buttons at all the right times.

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