“Scream when captured / Arch your back / Let this whole town hear your knuckles crack,” sings Mountain Goats’ frontman John Darnielle on “Damn These Vampires,” the opening track of All Eternals Deck. But the song—as well as the rest of the album—runs counter to such rawness. All Eternals Deck is one of the smoothest, most delicate iterations of Darnielle’s thorny storytelling to date, though the infamously word-wise, lo-fi pioneer hasn’t exactly buttoned down since signing to Merge Records last year. With Superchunk’s Jon Wurster still on drums and longtime bassist Peter Hughes cementing Darnielle’s tattered song-scraps, All Eternals Deck leaves plenty of room for ragged folk-punk ragers like “Estate Sale Sign” and the appropriately bare-bones “For Charles Bronson.” The album is compiled from a spate of random recording sessions, a loose method reflected in Darnielle’s lyrics. Rather than the strong thematic thread of 2009’s biblical The Life Of The World To Come, the only discernable concept running through All Eternals Deck is a nebulous and urban magic realism—for instance, the juxtaposition of post-apocalyptic and medieval imagery that is “Beautiful Gas Mask.” But even when Darnielle waxes grandiose and fantastical, his wit and grit ground his poetry in the quietest kind of ache.
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