Review Summary: We Shall All Be Healed is a haunting look at addiction that bleeds with an intimacy that leaves the listener hanging on Darnielle's every word.
Under his stage name The Mountain Goats, John Darnielle has somehow managed to amass a catalog of releases that puts most encyclopedias to shame. Even more surprising is the consistency of the material he puts forth. Out of the nineteen full-lengths that he has released since his first bedroom recordings in 1991, there is not one that can be seen as disappointing. For the first thirteen years of his music career Darnielle's songs culled from a variety of topics ranging from lofty literature to highly detailed and emotional character studies, but it wasn't until he started to look inward, starting with 2004's We Shall All Be Healed
, that Darnielle hit pure gold.
We Shall All Be Healed
is a bittersweet ode to Darnielle's youth. Set in the prevailing sprawl of Pomona, California (part of the never ending expanse of Los Angeles), Darnielle's first semi-autobiographical album details the destructive cycle of methamphetamine addiction that consumed Darnielle's group of friends in his teenage years. The Mountain Goats' official website puts it best when it says that We Shall All Be Healed
is "based on people John used to know. Most of them are probably dead or in jail by now."
For such a heavy topic, Darnielle tackles it like every other album to bear his name making it a personal one on one with a man and his acoustic guitar. Right from the get go We Shall All Be Healed
emotes an underlying tension ready to tear the whole thing apart. The album's opener "Slow West Vultures", with its swelling strings in stark contrast to Darnielle's acoustic guitar, feels like it is going to burst. Even when We Shall All Be Healed
is at its most upbeat on tracks like "Palmcorder Yajna" and "Pigs That Ran Straightaway Into The Water, Triumph Of", it still exudes a sarcastic rage as if Darnielle has torn out a piece of his soul to go along with every line. This deathly seriousness hits its peak on the hauntingly bare "All Up The Seething Coast" as Darnielle's minimalist guitar chords act as a grim backdrop for the futility of addiction. As he whispers "And nothing you can say or do will stop me/ And a thousand dead friends can't stop me" the cord is broken and the entire weight of Darnielle's words are thrust upon the listener.
As We Shall All Be Healed
nears its close, Darnielle offers what may very well be the most moving song of his career in "Against Pollution". Avoiding all subtlety, it hits like a brick with its opening lyrics of "When I worked down at the liquor store/ Guy with a shotgun came raging through the place/ Muscled his way behind the counter / I shot him in the face." Darnielle's pensive deadpan is surreal and unnerving. The dark intensity of the story soon erupts into epiphany when only moments later he sings "When the last days come / We shall see visions more vivid than sunsets brighter than stars/ We will recognize each other and see ourselves for the first time the way we really are." This poignant dichotomy of light and dark catapults "Against Pollution" into the realm of lyrical perfection.
We Shall All Be Healed
is a haunting look at addiction that bleeds with an intimacy that leaves the listener hanging on Darnielle's every word. Even more, it shows that John Darnielle is at his most affective when his subject matter is culled from personal experience.