The Life of the World to Come

The Mountain Goats

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The Life of the World to Come Review

by Steve Leggett

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 The Life of the World to Come is his umpteenth album (his 16th, actually, and his sixth for 4AD), and if an album where every track is named after a Bible verse looks like it's going to be a radical departure for Darnielle, rest assured, it isn't. This isn't some praise & worship affair, but is instead a considered treatise on the use and meaning of faith in our lives, and it's a theme Darnielle has visited frequently in his past work, and it isn't the first time he's used Bible verses to provide narrative structure to a song, either. He's always done that here and there on his projects, but this is the first time a whole album from him has used Bible verses as an over-arching scheme. Other than that, The Life of the World to Come is business as usual, with Darnielle musing on the need to believe and keep faith in something as the pressures, horrors, and oddities of life in the 21st century flash by at the speed of a keypad. There is a downcast and deeply meditative mood to this album, though, and the arrangements feature more piano than guitar (and plenty of violin arrangements from Owen Pallett), but Darnielle's fans don't need to worry here. He's still writing finely observed vignettes that manage to intersect 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. What Darnielle has discovered, though, is that faith has its twin opposite, and it's called doubt, and the dark, uncertain path between the two is where most of our lives are led. This isn't a religious album in any normal sense of the word -- Darnielle certainly isn't preaching here or trying to point anyone to Heaven or any other place -- but it is a deeply spiritual one, and if it's a more muted affair than the last couple of albums, it doesn't really stand out of phase from them. By the end of the sequence (and Darnielle saves the darkest track, "Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace," a song about a drug-addicted murderer driving to Mexico for last), one is sort of wishing he'd lighten up a bit, though. When faith works, it leads to resolution, contentment, and joy, after all. Maybe that's the theme for the next album.

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