Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Mountain Goats: Tallahassee [4AD, 2002]
John Darnielle's embattled "alpha couple" are no more a single fictional creation than his Mountain Goats are a group or his "I" is himself. They're the kind of irreducible sociological construct that impresses artists that settle into deep heartland--literally Iowa for Darnielle, symbolically where it says on 2002's much flatter DIY All Hail West Texas and now the different place it says on this well-enhanced major-indie debut (which comes trailing Ghana, Sweden, and Full Force Galesburg). Darnielle gets mileage out of songs-with-strummed-guitar's confessional imperative; as unautobiographical as we guess his Tallahassee-and/or-Texas interpersonals must be, there's tremendous emotional oomph in his first person. His singing reinforces the effect. And if there's nothing heartland about "Our love is like the border between Greece and Albania/Trucks loaded down with weapons/Crossing over every night/Moon yellow and bright," well, really, who cares? A