Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

The Mountain Goats – Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace

Is that a wombat on your lap, or – actually, no, that’s definitely a wombat, isn’t it…


John Seroff: A pretty, lonely sketch of piano and voice that barely ducks the moroseness of, say, an Unthanks but still stoically demands to be kept at emotional arm’s length. John Darnielle’s lilting, nasal voice and complex lyrics render The Goats an acquired taste that’s well worth the effort, but even aficionados may find the new single a bit impenetrable. I would’ve liked to have seen the theme resolve or heighten; instead, it resolutely mopes. Surely that’s the mood Darnielle was aiming for, but mope may be too close a cousin to pretension for this to entirely avoid a family resemblance.

Alfred Soto: The quiet menace that is John Darnielle’s biggest strength has rarely enjoyed a prettier setting. Deceptively pretty. The melody is so beguiling – the metaphor about light through an insect’s wing such an apt distillation of how the music sounds – that I missed the bit about the narrator’s companion’s hands being tied behind his back. Not the stuff of singles, but as album closer it beats the Biblical passage from which it draws inspiration.

Martin Kavka: In Ezekiel 7, the function of Ezekiel stating “doom is upon you” is so that the people of Israel “know that I am the Lord.” So what does this have to do with a narrative about a junkie with a hostage in the back seat? It seems to be that, through the spare instrumentation and oblique lyric, Darnielle manages to make the junkie relatable, even lovable. And if we can love a guy at the same time that we suspect he might not live far past the song’s ending, then God can love and be gracious to us, even in a time when war feeds our apocalyptic fears. The song is like a flourless chocolate torte for sensitive indie types, but for other kinds of people, I’m not sure it will be that particularly moving.

Chuck Eddy: Darnielle’s an excellent ILM sparring partner when it comes to the troo definition of metal, but I’ve never been able to give his music the concentration it apparently requires (even though my daughter, who’s in college now, has long been a big fan). And this song’s no exception — I’m bored stiff; my mind wanders like crazy. Though what it does reiterate is that the problem may well not be his voice (which is plain but clear here — nothing to get excited about, and it sure as heck doesn’t pull me into the narrative, but I don’t cringe) or his melodic sense. The tempo is another question. The words, I wouldn’t know.

Anthony Easton: I have been doing godwork, formally, for a few months now, and I am finding some important things about myself. I do not have a missionary relationship to Christ. I am most likely not a Christian. I do not feel called to ministry, to an intense and personal relationship with God. My queerness, my autism, my depression, my prickly/spiny nature in addition to the above has made the communal work that godtalk entails impossible and profoundly lonely. This loneliness is compounded with a never-ending quest for completeness, for holiness, for purity, that if I am devout enough or together enough, or even if I do nothing, God in her infinite mercy would make me whole. I do not believe in the Divine, and I want her to make me whole. This album, and, especially, this song, is the best expression of that profound/postmodern paradox. I could talk about it musically, but the mystery of grace is foundational to the push-me/pull-me tale of the fallen and the redeemed. Darnielle is Catholic, he is not Protestant, and my move from the Catholics to the Protestants is one of seeking Grace — here is Luther (another fallen Catholic) on Grace: “It is like the case of a man who is ill, who trusts the doctor who promises him a certain recovery and in the meantime obeys the doctor’s instructions, abstaining from what has been forbidden to him, in the hope of the promised recovery (in spe promissae sanitatis), so that he does not do anything to hinder this promised recovery… Now this man who is ill, is he healthy?”

Edward Okulicz: A beautiful and enthralling song on the surface, replete with something disquieting and captivating in its lyrics. I can totally hear this as a male Kate Bush song, a sort of disc 1 of Aerial kind of thing. Strangely, John Darnielle, even at his most hi-fi and produced, has never before sounded like he’d be at home on daytime non-alternative radio. And this song’s serene piano would fit perfectly there if the title, details about dirty floors and tied hands didn’t make me think this song is about fleeing a murder scene – or driving a hostage to one.

Doug Robertson: I’m sure this is fantastically important and deep and meaningful to the person who wrote this, but for the actual listener it just comes across as dull, whiny, directionless, self important twaddle, bringing with it an overriding sense of being written on the hoof, without any real consideration for the fact that other people are going to hear this, so a vague grunt of effort might well be a good idea.

Ian Mathers: I’ve already spent far too many words elsewhere talking about what an incredible album the new Mountain Goats is, so let me just add this about its simultaneously moving and creepy closing track: Even before you read the bible verses and see that Ezekiel 7 is the story of the Lord planning to unleash a total shitstorm on a sinful world, you can tell that this song is either the story of a titanic, shadowy struggle between Good and Evil; or else it’s the story of a deeply disturbed man who merely thinks he’s in the middle of that struggle. In either case, though, it’s not at all clear what side our narrator is on, or even what side he thinks he’s on. John Darnielle manages to imbue the lines “drive ’til the rain stops / keep driving” with such pathos, madness, tenderness, and desperation throughout that we’ll probably never know.

3 Responses to “The Mountain Goats – Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace”

  1. My knee jerk reaction to Doug Robertson’s blurb is to be kind of angry about it, but really it just helps me realize that every time I dump on a song (any song!) on here there’s probably another writer who gets upset about it as much as I am here, so FAIR ENOUGH.

  2. I hear what you’re saying there, Ian, but I suspect that even Jesus would view listening to this and coming to the conclusion that John Darnielle isn’t thinking about what he’s doing, as just fucking dumb.

    Also wow

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