John Darnielle hasn't been gifted with a great voice or a particularly notable ear for melody; his strength is words, which he crafts with the flair of a novelist and the intensely personal touch of a committed diarist. Darnielle poured himself into the last two Mountain Goats albums, 2005's The Sunset Tree and 2006's Get Lonely, offering emotionally overpowering accounts of, respectively, growing up with an abusive stepfather and picking up the pieces of his life after a failed romantic relationship. Where those records were like novellas, Heretic Pride is a collection of short stories with nothing connecting them except Darnielle's nasal delivery and driving acoustic guitar. Without the gripping autobiographical elements of recent Mountain Goats releases (or the tape hiss of the band's lo-fi days) to justify them, Darnielle's idiosyncratic, occasionally annoying vocals and elementary folk melodies fall a little flat. As a collection of words, Heretic is great: Richly detailed songs like "Lovecraft In Brooklyn" (packed with potent visual references like "some kid in a Marcus Allen jersey asking me for a cigarette") and "Sept. 15 1983" (a remembrance of '70s reggae singer Prince Far I) play amazingly well on paper, but they could use a stronger interpreter at the microphone.
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