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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
+ Svalastog - Woodwork
+ Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
+ Rosy Parlane - Jessamine
+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
+ Múm - Peel Session
+ Deloris - Ten Lives
+ Minimum Chips - Lady Grey
+ Badly Drawn Boy - Born In The U.K.
+ The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls Together
+ The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
+ The Places - Songs For Creeps
+ Camille - Le Fil
+ Wolf Eyes - Human Animal
+ Christina Carter - Electrice
+ The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
+ Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
+ Various Artists - Musics In The Margin
+ Rafael Toral - Space
+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
+ Robin Guthrie - Continental
+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
+ Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
+ Metal Hearts - Socialize
+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
+ Supersilent - 7
+ Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
+ Dudley Perkins - Expressions
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+ The Essex Green - Cannibal Sea
+ Espers - II
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The Mountain Goats

Though John Darnielle has been writing about his Alpha Couple for years, in songs like "Alpha Omega" and "Alpha Desperation March" (memorably covered by Atom and His Package on last year's Redefining Music), they've never staggered into the spotlight until now.

Man and wife, Darnielle's ongoing mouthpieces of apocalyptic love manifest, in actions only the blackest and purest sections of the heart would allow, the kind of symbiotic love that runs as thick as tar and can be, quite literally, all-consuming. Tallahassee is their album, a place for the Alphas to watch how love becomes desperation, and then violent, grasping need; how two people can feed so completely off each other that worldly concerns become secondary, tertiary, and then nonexistent.

Tallahassee is a concept album about a house, complete with characters, setting, subplot, back story, a definite narrative line, and enough tension to fill a novel. In the opening title track, a "window faces an ill kept front yard," as, from inside their newly acquired home, the Alphas watch the "moon stuttering in the sky like film stuck in a projector." The narrator wonders why he's there, and then stumbles upon the obvious answer: "You. You."

From the beginning, Darnielle creates a world for his characters, whom he both loves and pities (and of whose blind and feral devotion he's inordinately jealous). It's a world inside a dilapidated Florida house, ostensibly in the middle of nowhere, in the sweltering humidity, fueled by alcohol and teetering on the brink of implosion.

Their story continues through songs like "Game Shows Touch Our Lives," in which Alpha Male hands his wife "a drink of the lovely little thing on which our survival depends," and their concerns about the purpose of their isolation fade into drunken memory (not that these concerns were ever too prevalent to begin with). In "The House That Dripped Blood," the Alpha Home itself becomes a menacing figure in the Couple's lives — "the cellar door is an open throat." Lyrically, Darnielle loads each line with meaning; when his characters' mutual adoration turns into something bordering on rage, we can feel the wind begin to blow.

Darnielle's grasp on the subtlety of human emotions, though, is something he's fine-tuned over scores of releases, and it's almost a given that each Mountain Goats album will offer up at least a handful of harrowing truths. Tallahassee is different because it does so without the tell-tale tape-hiss concealing the shortcomings of Darnielle's voice, and without the standard Mountain Goats accompaniment of a maniacally strummed acoustic guitar. Here, the sound is full. It's the first time a Mountain Goats project feels like a cohesive band. Darnielle's voice, benefiting from professional recording, is complemented by bass, keyboards and occasional percussion.

The opening track's hypnotic, repetitive bass line leads you into the story; by the time Darnielle softly croons the opening lines, you're in it for the long haul. "See America Right" finds the Mountain Goats transformed into a rock band — drums, loud guitar, barely restrained vocals. Though the normal Mountain Goats sound — scratchy, temperamental and unforgiving — would seem to befit the story of these two pathetic lovers, the additional instruments bring a fullness to their story and a sense of atmosphere to their Tallahassee home that the old way could never have done. And it's nice to hear the man's voice for once.

As wildly deranged as these characters are, Darnielle makes you feel overwhelming empathy for them — the love for which they sequester themselves in an old house in order to discover and define is the kind of love people dream about. In concert, he talks about the Alpha Couple as if they were old friends. He respects them, and, by the last track on the album, "Alpha Rats Nest," so do we. The ending of their story is ambiguous — do they kill each other in the second to last song? Are they reborn at the end? The lyrics are up for interpretation, but the sincerity of the characters is not. The last verse begins: "Oh sing sing sing/ For the dying of the day/ Sing for the flames that will rip through here/ And the smoke that will carry us away."

The Alphas may be done for, but Darnielle's portrait of desperate, reckless love, as full as a novel and as vibrant as a film, has its own long life to live.

by Neal Block

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