The Mountain Goats

SXSW Records

Phases and Stages

The Mountain Goats

Tallahassee (4AD) After 2001's All Hail West Texas on Austin indie Emperor Jones, there was reason to believe that chief Mountain Goat John Darnielle had a Texas connection. With the Goats' major label debut, Tallahassee, it's obvious the current Ames, Iowa, resident is just trying to cover as much geographic ground as possible. Tallahassee is the first completely hi-fi recording for Darnielle, who's put out a deluge of albums since 1992, mostly recorded on a dual-cassette Panasonic boom box. The music has been mostly spare, with repeated listenings devoted to Darnielle's lyrical labyrinths and Great American imagery so pregnant with meaning. It takes a few times around to extract the proverbial nectar. As such, Tallahassee is a concept album about a couple who moves to Florida in search of the ultimate affirmation of or ending to their relationship. Darnielle, whose nasal delivery is not far removed from Neutral Milk Hotel's similarly gifted Jeff Mangum, writes vignettes that are exhilarating in their bittersweet highs yet rife with enigmatic asides. ("We're gonna stay married in this house like a Louisiana graveyard where nothing stays buried.") The lows, like the absurdly angry "No Children," are wrenchingly depressing. A few cuts retain the energy and nervousness of the boom-box material, but mostly, Darnielle opts for light touches of piano or vibraphone, passing on the opportunity for grand embellishment like last year's superlative Bright Eyes album. (Blender Bar, Thursday, March 13, 9pm)

***.5

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