Latest album from lowa-based erudite John Darnielle
Prolific to the point of exhaustion, John Darnielle is sometime care worker, gonzo rock critic and fanzine publisher while also leading an outfit who’ve now released 12 albums in little over eight years. Mountain Goats records?despite featuring such unlikely collaborators as the Bright Mountain Choir?have essentially served as DIY solo vehicles. Despite 2002’s boozesoaked Tallahassee shunting production values up a notch, the sentiment (or lack of) remained the same. Darnielle’s bedrock is the written word: barbed, spiteful and bristling with thorns or alarmingly blunt, snapping life into focus.
We Shall All Be Healed?inspired by Darnielle’s one-time social circle?swaps alcoholism for junkiedom. If Tallahassee was The Days Of Wine And Roses, this is Last Exit To Brooklyn. In fact, though humour-streaked it may be, Hubert Selby Jr looks like Enid Blyton by comparison. The tunes, too?full band in tow, including longtime cohort Peter Hughes?are fittingly scabrous. Roky Erickson’s influence is obvious on the spitting “Palmcorder Yajna” and “Home Again Garden Grove”‘s chickenwire rasp. Unsurprising given Darnielle’s penning of sleevenotes for Roky’s remarkably similar Never Say Goodbye.
But it’s not all so cut and dry. Often, the music?as on “Your Belgian Things” or “Mole” (the latter a spine-shivering visit to a friend handcuffed to an intensive care bed)?is sweet, black and subtle: downcast piano, small skips of guitar, plops of violin. Darnielle’s ugly-urgent voice is expressive too?a nasally folk bleat (forgive the pun) somewhere ‘twixt Erickson and Phil Ochs. “Linda Blair Was Born Innocent” opens like an old Open University theme before, with strings and softly chugging guitar, it blooms like a dark orchid, while “All Up The Seething Coast” is just gorgeous: lightly powdered acoustic, spoken words and bassy rumble. It’s the best thing he’s written.
Despite?or perhaps because of?its viscous air of paranoia, this record is unputdownable.