During the 90s, John Darnielle's songwriting was easy to fall for and hard to keep up with. Using little more than a speedily strummed acoustic guitar and his nasal bark of a voice, and unencumbered by anything like production values, Darnielle (recording, with occasional help, as the Mountain Goats) cranked out an extraordinarily high quantity of appealingly cryptic ruminations on love--then scattered them over a maddening series of cassette-only releases, limited-edition seven-inches, side-project records, and comps. The local label 3 Beads of Sweat cleaned up some of the mess two years ago by collating 81 stray tracks into three CDs, but more important rehabilitation has come from Darnielle himself, who seems to have a whole new approach to writing and recording. The keyboards and drums on 2002's Tallahassee and the new We Shall All Be Healed (both on 4AD) give songs like "Palmcorder Yajna" and "Against Pollution" a sleek beauty he'd resisted before. Some of the lyrical obliqueness has cleared up as well--breakup songs like "No Children" now have real bite: "I hope that our few remaining friends / Give up on trying to save us / I hope we come up with a fail-safe plot / To piss off the dumb few who forgave us." Who knows why it took so long, but Darnielle sounds like he's finally stopped doodling and is ready to call himself an artist. With Manishevitz. Saturday, February 28, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.