John Darnielle and The Mountain Goats on Giants

John Darnielle, The Mountain Goats
John Darnielle, The Mountain Goats

Each song title on The Mountain Goats’ 2009 album, The Life of the World to Come is named after a Bible verse – usually with a tangential or obscure connection to the song lyrics. The album kicks off with “1 Samuel 15:23”, before moving onto “Psalms 40:2”, “Genesis 3:23” (mp3 here) and so on. A bonus disk even delves into 1 Enoch – a text considered scriptural by early Christians but later falling from canonical grace – with a song titled “Enoch 18:14”. Just in case you weren’t familiar with them, The Mountain Goats are a folk-indie outfit formed in 1991, and were originally John Darnielle’s one-man band. And they’re not CCM.

In an April 2011 article (“What These Cryptic Symbols Mean’: Quotation, Allusion, and John Darnielle’s Biblical Interpretation”, Biblical Interpretation 19.2: 109-128), A.K.M. Adam discusses how the Mountain Goats employ the Bible as “an all-too-human expression of how the world is (and will be), even when the appearances suggest otherwise”.

Some of John Darnielle's earlier work with my cuzzie
Some of John Darnielle's earlier work with my cuzzie

Most excitingly, Adam comments on their song, “Deuteronomy 2:10”, named after a biblical verse which refers to some biblical Giants called Emim. The Bible doesn’t say too much about the Emim except, rather mysteriously yet poignantly, that they had formerly dwelt in Moab.

[Deuteronomy 2:10] reflects on the absoluteness of mortality by focusing on three species of extinct animals (the Tasmanian tiger, the dodo, and the golden toad); in three quiet verses, Darnielle gently drives home the finality of extinction, the loneliness of being the last of one’s kind, whether of vanquished species or a childless family. The song’s title, “Deuteronomy 2:10,” associates these creatures – and the singer – with the Emim, who formerly lived in Ar [a city in Moab], ‘a people great and many, and as tall as the Anakim’…. Deuteronomy 2:10 stands well apart from its biblical precedent…

Indeed, Giants, when they appear in stories, are almost always the remnant of a former age, strangely out of place in the world of humans and belonging properly to either a bygone era or mythical faraway place.

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3 thoughts on “John Darnielle and The Mountain Goats on Giants

  1. The Mountain Goats “Life of the World to Come” is far too understated and slow. I got this album and tried really hard to like it, but I couldn’t. Kind of like Sufjan Stevens. I want badly to like his albums because he seems like a good guy and a deep thinker, and has that hint of spirituality, but I can’t through more than a minute of most songs without flipping the “next” button.

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    • Have you tried mixing “Life of the World to Come” with the distinctive timbre of a 1980s Casiotone? I have, and it’s much better as a result. The preprogrammed “Cha-cha” beat goes with every song.

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  2. @pf I like Heretic Pride (an earlier album) best… but it’s music … you like it or you don’t. I like the music and the lyrics, but it’s definitely the lyrics that make it for me… brilliant lines.
    @Tyrone, Interested to learn you are cousin of Alistair. I went through OB’s in same year as him before he got famous.

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