When I first spoke with John Darnielle of ‘The Mountain Goats’ about the aesthetic of his new record, he said he’d like to see a mix of ‘ancient divinity’ and ‘1980s fear’ mixed with ‘a sort of contemporary wicca’, I thought ‘wow – this guys record had better be good!’. He didn’t disappoint. When he sent me the songs (demo’s at first) I could see immediately where he was coming from, the rich tapestry of well crafted lyrics take you along a journey you dare not switch over from.
On a slight tangent, when i was younger a friend of mine had a pirate copy of The Exorcist, I was genuinely scared to have this small label-less Betamax tape in my house, its two white spools staring at me in the darkness, ‘Poltergeist’ had a similar vibe’ – the ‘portal’ in the corner of our homes, where you can literally ‘switch to the other side’. There was something about that 80s supernatural austerity..
I should point out this album isn’t at all death metal (altho John is a big fan), and its always a risk that it might end up looking so bearing in mind the previous two paragraphs. No, this album had to look classy and minimal, invite you to pick up and examine further, saving the chaos til you open the box. It had to be black, except for some delicate spot silver typography of course, something rune-like but with a modern twist, Sam Chirnside had a prototype face that with a tweek here and there worked perfectly. So then, a modern mysticism. John agreed. we were up and running.
John sent me short descriptions of all of the songs (most are not as obvious as the titles suggest) and I then set about filming (on iphone) and sourcing archive footage to take grabs from. There’s something about a video grab, its murky and undefined. I remember reading a book called ‘Reasons for Knocking at an empty house’ by Bill Viola and looking at the sequences of distorted video images therein, they’re unsettling even if they’re not meant to be, I wanted that vibe, like the songs themselves the viewer can then draw there own conclusions, or, if they like, can just turn over.
It was coming together nicely, but i felt was looking a bit too dark, so the original sleeve became an O-card (wraps over the jewel case) and the cover in the case became the familiar pattern found on the back of tarot cards (done as a spot silver on maroon).
I don’t usually write so much on these posts (come back…!) but i thoroughly enjoyed working on this record. Maggie Fost and Merge (the record co) were very supportive, and John Darnielle genuinely made me feel like part of the recording process.
The Mountain Goats / All Eternals Deck is available here