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The Mountain Goats

On first listen to a Mountain Goats record, you'd think that songwriter and principal member John Darnielle has led the most crazed, wandering, demented, and occasionally violent life imaginable. And then, on second listen, you realize his songs are fiction. His simple instrumentation (often just his voice and an acoustic guitar recorded into a boombox) belies the creative complexity of his songs, in which he invokes everything from Latin to literary references to geography, creating his own historical mythology that is both outrageous and utterly mundane. Few musicians could successfully pen the line "The most remarkable thing about you standing in the doorway is that it's you/and that you're standing in the doorway" ("Going to Georgia," from 1994's Zopilote Machine) without making it sound utterly inane, but that's exactly what Darnielle manages to do. In fact, with his simple yet urgent guitar strum and earnest though imperfect vocals, the words don't sound inane at all; they sound wonderfully prophetic, poetic, and profound.

Darnielle's precise strain of genius has not yet been completely understood, but legions of Mountain Goats fans will tell you that nobody is more amazing. Not to mention prolific: Darnielle writes songs more often than most people shower. In less than ten years, the Mountain Goats have released six albums, three separate collections of compilation tracks and singles, and a few limited 12-inches, cassettes, and side projects. Darnielle is not content to rest on his laurels, however: he continues to write new songs, blending raw emotion and lyrical finesse to create devastating short stories that just happen to be set to music.

"Baboon" and "Family Happiness," featured here, both come his 2000 release on Absolutely Kosher, The Coroner's Gambit, half of which was recorded at home in Iowa and half in Nebraska with Simon Joyner.