If 2003 was a year of ’80s power tripping, overheated erotomania dance music, absurdity and escapism (Beyonce to Beyonce) — all a heads-down response to our government’s colonialist exploits abroad and within — this year the seething rock ‘n’ roll superego may have to take itself down a notch. It’s too early to say, but this year might be about bands named after thorny animals that eat Styrofoam cups apropos of nothing, attack unprovoked and engage in thoroughly post-postmodern narrative.
Either way, the Mountain Goats’ We Shall All Be Healed, recorded in a rustic barn-like studio in Washington state, arrives as a welcome diversion from the call of the greedy wallet and its neighbor the greedy crotch.
Out to woods as always, imprecise and fallible, John Darnielle’s latest tributes the art of life that doesn’t work out quite right. Sure, the Mountain Goats rejection of the electric guitar might seem a little too Little House on the Prairie for the average megalomaniacal Brooklyn bear, but it works. It’s done so intelligently you don’t even miss the ironic yawping of those terrible neo-hair bands.
In cars, visiting friends in psychiatric wards, in biohazard suits, Darnielle weaves odd nail-biting dramas of despair and irreconcilable differences. The song “Your Belgian Things” melds bereft words and Cat Stevens song structures into a dusky brilliance. With dreams “like fugitive warlords” and “a couple of milky ways for breakfast,” We Shall All Be Healed is an unlikely beauty.