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Mountain Goats 

Tallahassee (4AD)

Listening to this sad-sack song cycle about a tumultuous marriage in crisis, you'd think the Mountain Goats' main man (and, lucky us, a regular contributor to the RFT music section) John Darnielle dreamed up the album after watching Cops. Darnielle -- sounding like a latter-day Tennessee Williams who grew up listening to John Denver -- both damns and loves his beautiful losers. On Tallahassee, he journeys on an emotional dirt road from wistful memories of early love to ballads teeming with dreams of vengeance to morbid fatalism and back again.

Though Darnielle doesn't muster quite the intensity of Will Oldham's curdled musings or match either the poetry of Silver Jews' Dave Berman or the musical inventiveness of Giant Sand's Howe Gelb, he's a more vivid storyteller than any of them, and more melodically inviting. Tallahassee is, of course, a musical document -- and it's in the music that Darnielle invests this moonshine-soaked marriage with a kind of grace. Some of the songs enjoy a simplicity that allows Darnielle's tenderness to shine through; others rip out self-defeating, drunken yarns with dry-eyed clarity.

Ultimately Tallahassee is so good at teasing out the mad and thrilling gorgeousness of bad love that it kind of makes you wish you were in a death-spiraling relationship of your own.

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