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On Goths, the Mountain Goats are as compassionate as ever toward their fatally human characters

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What distinguishes the goths that Mountain Goats leader John Darnielle sings about on the band’s new album Goths (Merge) is neither fashion nor sound, but a desire to find community while separating oneself from society. Darnielle’s been writing about people who fumble the fundamentals of dealing with life ever since the early 90s, when he recorded meticulously structured vignettes on a boombox. And if the about-to-be-drilled protagonist of “Billy the Kid’s Dream of the Magic Shoes”—a track from the Chile de Árbol seven-inch that Chicago-based Ajax Records released in 1992—has no more clue about how to avoid his fate than the velvet-clad drunk driver on the new album’s “Stench of the Unburied,” then it would seem Darnielle is still every bit as compassionate towards his fatally human characters. One thing that has changed is the music, which is now as immaculately crafted as the lyrics have always been. Despite the subject matter, the music on Goths doesn’t sound very goth; the intricate woodwind arrangements and plush electric keyboards can sound a lot like Steely Dan. In concert Darnielle and his three-piece backing combo are quite adept at bringing songs from the Mountain Goats’ discography together to make sense alongside one another, and there’s a good chance that they will bust out a few extra oldies. This show is part of the Empty Bottle’s ongoing celebration of its 25th year and actually marks 23 years and eight days since the band made its Chicago debut in the very same room.   v

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