Review Summary: At 5 AM I turned the radio on and an old mans voice sang a short sweet song, and then the static roared again hungry for blood...
By the time that John Darnielle, also known by his cloven alter-ego The Mountain Goats, set out to write 2000's The Coroner's Gambit
he had nine full-lengths and almost double that amount of lesser known singles and EP's to his name, but he had still yet to fully come into his own. True, he had already created the bitter and divisive Alpha couple, a concept he would fully explore later on Tallahassee
, and released two damn near flawless albums in Sweden
and Nothing for Juice
, yet those were just growing pains, a sign of things to come, a glimpse of the near limitless potential of Darnielle, his guitar, and a Panasonic RX-FT5000Â*boombox to record into. After a decade of honing his craft, The Coroner's Gambit
marks The Mountain Goat's first masterpiece.
Like every Mountain Goats album before 2002's Tallahassee
, The Coroner's Gambit
is a musically simple, yet emotionally complex, collection of lo-fi gold, eschewing professional conventions in favor of intimate, homebrewed numbers awash in a tinny haze of tape hiss, charmingly under produced acoustic guitar, and buzzing vocals. Even on his earliest songs, Darnielle's hyper-literate prose was, and still is, one of music's best kept secrets, and the 16 songs on display here mark his evolution from bookish wordsmith to enlightened philosopher. Bittersweet and unnerving, the stories presented on The Coroner's Gambit
, while mostly fictitious, are so hauntingly bare that it is hard to believe that Darnielle hasn't lived dozens of lives, each full of despair and distrust, as well as joy and rapture, displaying his uncanny ability to wrap his bleak musings on the best and the worst of human interactions in the prettiest of melodies.