Pray that John Darnielle's friends don't come to your party. Pray that they won't show up on your doorstep all strung out, pissed off and half-wasted, ready to kill or die or fuck anything in their path. The Catholic convenience-store clerk is a real buzzkill when he starts bragging about shooting some guy in the face. The vagabond tweaker in tape-covered sweatpants crowds the keg, freaking people out with chatter about cryptic symbols and invasive carpenter ants.
Darnielle's latest outing, We Shall Be Healed, is a party of freaks. Under the pluralist moniker of his one-man band, The Mountain Goats, Darnielle has left the urgent confessionals of the "Alpha Couple" that populated his last two offerings, choosing instead to offer a motley cast of meth-head revolutionaries and paranoid freeloaders. Darnielle delivers their nasal monologues with the muscular, acoustic-guitar spazzing that's become his calling card. But instead of documenting them with the Panasonic handheld tape recorder of his early days, Darnielle presents this collection with glistening hi-fidelity resolution that he first introduced on 2002's Tallahassee.
Some Converse-wearing minions may bemoan the end of the "Alpha Couple," but the characters of We Shall Be Healed are a refreshing lot. "Let's go where the jackals are breathing...Wrap this bandanna around your head, don't let anyone see that you're bleeding," Darnielle narrates in "Home Again Garden Grove." Then he explains: "Our dreams were like fugitive warlords...plotting triumphant returns to the city, keeping TEC-9s tucked under the floorboards." It's the most hair-raising moment of the 13-song collection, and it bristles with desperation. Other notables are "Palmcorder Yajna" and "Quito," both equally high-octane folk, and though the ballads ("Mole," "Linda Blair Was Born Innocent") sag in comparison, it would be hard to catch your breath without the breaks.
All told, it's a nervy outing, jammed with awkward moments, searing images and raw energy. From the moment that Darnielle introduces his pals, they are hard to forget. After you meet them, they have the power to stay with you--crashing on your couch, sallow-skinned and shivering, eating junk food and plotting to smuggle weapons--long after the party's over.