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the coroner's gambit
The Mountain Goats
The Coroner's Gambit
Absolutely Kosher

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John Darnielle (aka The Mountain Goats) has now released six high-octane, introspective passion-folk albums. If you haven't heard The Mountain Goats before, the music might best be divined by imagining Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum as a singer-songwriter. Darnielle's lyrics and songs take on the same sort of symbolic poetry, but where Mangum layers on sound-effects and fuzz, Darnielle utilizes his nasal singing and machine-gun guitar strumming to transport the listener on a journey into personal, manic despair.

And what a journey it is! Darnielle skips from idea to idea and from chord to chord every millisecond, attempting to pour all the emotion he can muster into a single basket. And it works, again and again. Darnielle seems to be daring you not to bounce/bob your head to his music. You've never heard lo-fi recordings infused with such hi-fi poetic musings, unless you've heard other albums by The Mountain Goats.

Darnielle's lyrics shift at will from poetry worthy of Robert Frost to cloying pop-culture references. In "Trick Mirror", he tells us that "blood will run through the streets of Rome today and roll across the ocean." In "Scotch Grove" he relates that he keeps hearing the same Leann Rimes song over and over, and he hates it. How welcome is it that an artist in this genre, who sings so masterfully that his "garden will grow so high... that I will be completely hidden", in "Island Garden Song", can then nonchalantly name-drop Maria Callas in "Horseradish Road?"

The Mountain Goats know how to finish a song properly. This usually means that Darnielle's guitar fury will be unleashed, and that he's about to start repeating his choruses over and over, each time with greater intensity, turning many songs into pain-purging affairs. It is an extremely satisfying effect, and there is no doubting the honesty behind the songs.

John Darnielle's strumming and intoning should be considered national treasures. Consistently compelling and catchy-to-your-soul, The Mountain Goats deserve a much wider audience. In the song that shares its title with the CD, Darnielle tells us that "like moonlight on the water, I couldn't say no." Similarly, like moonlight on the water, you owe it to yourself not to say no to The Coroner's Gambit.

-- Tim DiGravina
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