John Darnielle goes grander and more driving on his latest Mountain Goats release, Heretic Pride. Since 2002’s All Hail West Texas, the prolific singer/songwriter has shifted from an esoteric approach to more thematic material, and has delivered more autobiographical work since 2004’s We Shall All Be Healed (his first with current producer John Vanderslice). However, Darnielle has kept his unique voice, even as he has moved a step or two away from haunting folk-rock and into a more epic arena.
Heretic Pride opens with its best track, “Sax Rohmer #1”, and, in general, the first half of the record is the stronger side. “Sax” displays Darnielle’s pressing folk-rock at its finest, with a powerful build into its bigger part. The following “San Bernardino” and “Heretic Pride” go prettier in their press, “Bernardino” carrying with strings, the title track with piano. “Autoclave”, despite its lame title, is nice and high, but also catchy, while there’s a smooth effect, but with meaning, on “New Zion”.
When The Mountain Goats get more stripped-down, the nasal aspects of Darnielle’s voice unfortunately come to the fore, such as on “So Desperate”, and later with “How to Embrace a Swamp Creature” and “Marduk T-Shirt Men’s Room Incident”. The latter side of Pride is better when things are darker, such as on the ominous “Lovecraft in Brooklyn”, or laid-back, like the rhythm-strum of “Sept 15 1983”.
Like his other Mountain Goats releases, John Darnielle can come off a little annoying at first on Heretic Pride. But he’s got a way with words, solid songwriting ability, and this new turn is for the best.