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Mountain Goats

Since they started releasing albums some time ago, it seems that you pretty much know what to expect when you buy a Mountain Goats release. One is a universe populated with odd and interesting characters, including animals that can talk and people that you've probably met in real life but haven't realized it yet. Although some albums were a bit more polished than others (many, including the recent All Hail West Texas were recorded on an old boombox with a built-in condenser microphone), you could also usually predict a rather lo-fi affair. When 4AD (home of some of the most tidely-produced bands around) announced that the Mountain Goats would be releasing a forthcoming disc on their label, many wondered how much it would change the sound of the group.

The answer is that is hasn't. Other than the production on the disc and the development of the songs, this is still pretty much the same old group that people have grown to know and love. The fact that John Darnielle and Peter Hughes have a lot more instruments and production values at their disposal only makes for a more nicely-developed recording. If you were one of those fans who simply can't live without those overblown hotspots and sketchy moments of the old recordings, you may find this newest effort too slick, but for most it will be a miniscule footnote.

Thematically, the album follows a couple and their trials and tribulations as they call Tallahasse home. Those who have been to Florida and seen the other side of the overpopulated beaches and slick amusement parks know that there seems to be an underlying current of weirdness in the state, and Darnielle seems to have tapped into that reserve of Southern oddness for many of the songs on this release. The album-titled opening track starts out the disc reflectively, as Darnielle sets the scene of things to come over only an acoustic guitar. "First Few Desperate Hours" picks up things a bit with a quickened pace and adds a bass for accompaniment while "Southwood Plantation Road" steps it up even more with slight percussion and electric guitar behind the acoustic.

It's around the midsection of the release that things really hit their stride, as lyrics seem to hit a darker core and the musical backing steps things up even more. "The House That Dripped Blood" is a jangling, love/hate ode to a decaying house, while "No Children" adds a pretty piano to the acoustic guitar instrumentation, but juxtaposes it with the most cruel lyrics on the entire release. "See America Right" follows it up with a downright rocking track, a drunken ramble of traversing the countryside while blinded with emotions and alcohol. It's those little sudden turns that make the album an enjoyable one on repeated listens. Invoking a bit of Flannery O'Connor (I can't imagine any other inspiration), "Peacocks" is a quiet morning lament, and it's just another excellent little song on release. Although he's prolific as heck, Darnielle is pretty darn consistent as well, and this album is another entry in his discography.

Rating: 7.5