The enigmatic, visceral tone of the Mountain Goats is at its eeriest on the dynamic All Eternals Deck. Long interested in the occult and its purportedly sinister subculture, John Darnielle conjures a shifting landscape where strange things lurk in every nook and cranny. With spirits and spooks occupying songs like "Damn the Vampires" and "Birth of Serpents," and the vague temporality of "Age of Kings," the album gets under the skin in engaging, unsettling ways. "You don't wanna see these guys without their masks on," Darnielle sings on the creepy folk pop of "The Autopsy Garland" and, amidst a series of dark abstractions that evoke Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the listener can't help but agree. After years of makeshift recordings and an inconsistent membership, the band have never sounded as cohesive and focused as they do with Darnielle joined by bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster. Percussive flourishes infuse "Beautiful Gas Mask" with a weird, rubbery vibe, while the men's choir on "High Hawk Season" is an endearingly outmoded touch. A multi-layered effort full of howls and moans, All Eternals Deck is a great testament to the artistic force of John Darnielle and the Mountain Goats.
Is this a record about haunted things?
John Darnielle: I think that's about right; it's about haunted things, things that have been visited by spirits. It's about the feeling of being unable to shake something and how that's a scary thing.
How does having a consistent trio affect you?
It affects me very positively; it's not news to musicians that collaboration is awesome, but I'm slow on the uptake and pig-headed. I enjoy working by myself and I'm a control freak. Once you start playing together, you learn so much about what goes into music. The main thing you learn is how to play less and it doesn't hurt that, as a rhythm section, these guys are really locked in.
And the three-worded song titles are a tribute to that?
I'm going to send you a present because I've been waiting for someone to notice that ― that is the meaning. I go through handfuls of working titles and one of them was Power of Three. I had three-word song titles written down, but it was a quiet, almost mystical reminder that I was writing for us, not just me. And in numerology and occult concerns, three is a big number. (Merge)