Advice on survival, terse portraits of marginal lives, glimpses of faith and epigrams of despair — “I’m still here/But all is lost” — share the songs on “Transcendental Youth,” the 14th studio album by the songwriter John Darnielle’s band, the Mountain Goats.
Those have all been regular touchstones among the hundreds of songs Mr. Darnielle has released since 1991. Through the last two decades he has moved from low-fi cassette recordings to studio productions to leading a stable band, a sinewy trio with Peter Hughes on bass and Jon Wurster on drums behind Mr. Darnielle on guitar (usually acoustic) or keyboard (usually piano). Their folk-rock can be breezy or bleak, and the band keeps getting better at making music a full partner with lyrics in telling the stories.
“Transcendental Youth” isn’t exactly a concept album, but it is bookended, beginning and ending with directives and affirmations. “Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive,” Mr. Darnielle sings in “Amy a k a Spent Gladiator 1,” written after the death of Amy Winehouse. Many songs later “Spent Gladiator 2” counsels, “Stay in the game/Just try to play through the pain,” before the album closes with its title song, “Transcendental Youth,” which finds its transcendence in music.