As far as I know, John Darnielle's lyrics are about as close to literature as you can get in music outside of Phillip Glass and a few other songwriters whose worlds unfold in time more poignantly and with less of a chance of vulgarity or speciousness than in film. His most recent release sets its verbal prowess upon the ancient literary architecture of the Bible, in a head-spinning contrast to its predecessor, Heretic Pride. In the year 2009, when verbal, musical, or pictorial references to God in any serious manner have been considered in ill taste for quite some time, in a strange set of circumstances, only John Darnielle, virtual iconoclast to his suburban offspring, whose breadth of interests and knowledge make nothing stick to him, could get away with this type of naive-seeming candor in an age of artificiality and perfidious imitation.
Here is an interview with John discussing many of the scenarios discussed in his songs on the new LP.
Here is a quote from an interview he was a part of earlier this month that seems a suitable introduction to a first listen:
I’ve been in pretty punishing physical and emotional health for the last couple years, buncha weird stuff, and that’ll get a person thinking about his spirit just as a refuge from his body. I’ve always had a pretty dicey relationship with my body—many survivors of abuse do—so there’s that. And also, I’ve had this lifelong thirst to believe, but I just don’t. I try; I go in as deep as I can, but I wonder whether real faith isn’t hard-wired. At the same time, I can’t call myself a non-believer. I talk about “the spirit” and have a hard time accepting that “the spirit” is actually just a sort of Freudian/Jungian collection of personality traits and reactions to them. I’ve experience transcendence both as ecstasy and pain, and I think the life of the spirit, that’s something worth letting loose in little songs, maybe. It’s bigger than they are, so maybe it can knock a few teacups off the shelves, right? It’s just, like, so much of what affects me emotionally is bound up in ideas of God and mercy and forgiveness and wrath and the sort of peace that we mean when we say “peace be with you” in the mass—you know? Huge part of who I am in all this, and I think it’s been darting around like a fish in my songs since at least The Coroner’s Gambit, so I thought, “why not focus, start digging, really head into the cave and see what’s there?”
This is John's blog where he educates us all about music