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The Mountain Goats | The Coroner's Gambit (Absolutely Kosher Records)
If on Brighton's Western Road on any given Saturday afternoon, you may be fortunate enough to witness the wonder of possibly the World's most wilfully appalling busker. There he stands, all 80+ years of him, unkempt and tiny, painfully slashing at a knackered violin, and caterwauling incomprehensible gibberish at bewildered shoppers. Whether his performances are out of necessity for pin money, or driven by madness, he seems totally oblivious to - and utterly unconcerned by - his total lack of anything remotely approaching musicality. And this is why I love him. As long as he achieves the height of statement he requires, he doesn't give a shit for anything outside the attempt. This is the spirit that evidently pervades the world of John Darnielle, AKA The Mountain Goats. After numerous limited edition cassette-only releases, a heap of compilation appearances, and six previous albums, it will ever remain a mystery to me as to how I've never encountered this magic before. Like the Brighton balm-pot, John, and whoever is around at the time, appears to just let rip where and whenever the fancy takes him. The Coroner's Gambit (subtitled ...Or Slavonic Dances if you prefer), was largely recorded, it seems, on the streets of the towns of Colo and Ames, Iowa, and somewhere in Omaha, directly into a trashed ghetto-blaster. It is militantly lo-fi, and is riddled with hiss, fuzz and dropouts, every last imperfection enhancing the charm. The performances are breathtaking throughout, from the delicacy of Elijah to the frenzied vitriol of Family Happiness; from the sweetness of Horseradish Road to the hilarious moral tale of Insurance Fraud # 2. The eccentricities of the contents are reflected in the fabulous packaging. The digi-pak sleeve of cream bears adjacent, identical b&w photos of what purports to be an early 1930's Calcutta incense factory; just beneath, the legend Sixteen new songs to be sung at the base of trees in Vancouver, Bombay, New Albany, Hull, Delft, Dar-el-Salaam, et cetera. Then inside, over half of the sleeve notes are taken up with an address to a friend lost to suicide. Poignant, sure, but irresistible, wouldn't you agree? If you've ever enjoyed the damaged music of mavericks such as Simon Joyner ?? who is present somewhere amongst this shambolic glory, The Baptist Generals or The Flat Duo Jets, you'll love this.

Tom Sheriff
CWAS #7 - Spring 2001