Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best of 2008: #19. The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride

Note: Due to the density of albums being presented over the upcoming weeks, I won't be posting links with them. If you want a link for any of the albums shown, leave a comment and I'll see what I can do.

John Darnielle is a busy man.

Ignoring for a second the bevy of albums he’s released in his seventeen years as the singer/songwriter behind The Mountain Goats, and the hundreds of songs he’s written during that time, 2008 saw Darnielle release his fifteenth (really?) full-length album, Heretic Pride, as well as a free EP release, Satanic Messiah, which you can download here. How the man can find time for all of this is beyond me; I struggle finishing even the basest of tasks (like, say, this Best of 2008 list) even with no other responsibilities to tend to.

On Heretic Pride, Darnielle takes yet another step away from the lo-fi folk sounds of his earlier records, furnishing his songs with lush pianos, horns and string arrangements. All of this works in creating a very warm and comfortable atmosphere that’s perfect for immersion. Darnielle’s song-writing skills are also again up to task, as his erudite lyrics reveal the story of each individual song through layers of allusions and metaphors. This can all be quite daunting, and rightfully so, but the fact that such craft is put into the lyrics trumps any immediate sense of deterrence, allowing you to slowly delve into the rich tapestry of the song-writer’s vision.

I guess the only criticism I can levy here is that it’s been done before and better at that. Darnielle doesn’t really cover any new ground here or bring any new elements to the table that weren’t already apparent in the brilliant The Sunset Tree. Instead, his songs carry with them the sense of familiarity; which isn’t bad in of itself, only in that it reminds you of a superior work. But arguing that the artist set the bar too high is one of the more positive criticisms one can impose. Indeed, for what it is, Heretic Pride is still a great album in its own right. Warm, intelligent and emotional, this is yet another strong release from one of the best song-writers around.

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