Continuing in their exploration of religious themes, The Mountain Goats' latest release The Life of the World to Come is comprised of twelve tracks, each one inspired by (and titled after) a single verse of the Christian bible. With the same stripped-down sound that fans have come to expect, the Goats trade in pushing the boundaries of their music for once again pushing the boundaries of poetic license.
Songwriter and frontman John Darnielle has never dodged uncomfortable topics, but has, instead, turned them into something abstract and in some way relatable to almost anyone willing to give a listen. Broadly speaking, he's done the same thing here. The difference, however, between The Life of the World to Come and the band's previous releases is that before, the themes were all subjective: a romantic relationship, dysfunctional family dynamics, drug abuse -- even the last record stayed under the vast thematic umbrella of heresy. But where abstracts previously helped to color a story, the current effort is, well, confusing. Whether you're a bible scholar or an atheist, Darnielle's vibrant poetry -- which, incidentally, would enjoy ample success apart from the bible-verse titles -- isn't enough to overshadow the fact that the impetus for these tracks isn't some forlorn, faceless lover, but a well-known historical and religious document which brings with it the risk of scrutiny from both religious and secular fans.
Apart from the chasm between the songs and the song titles, the album drips with essence of Mountain Goats. Though it drags more than we might like (the album needs more "Psalms 40:2" and less "Ezekiel 7"), the record is saturated with diverse percussion and lined with subtle-string layers, as the Goats continue to offer music which forgoes most of the studio bells and whistles, focusing more on musical dynamics sans effects pedals and heavy mixing. Add in a gluttonous dose of Darnielle's signature songwriting, and Goats fans end up with exactly what they'd expect: an emotional, auditory expression of God-knows-what. -josh cacopardo