Sure, any group can record 10 unhappy tracks in a row and call it an album, but it takes truly accomplished visionaries to make 10 miserable songs into a riveting audiomovie you'd stay to watch the credits for. To the guppies, misery isn't just a mood, it's an expansive landscape populated with ghosts of the departed and whatever's left of the people who stayed behind. When singer Brock Ruggles tells you, "For seven years I feared what I am living now" ("The Parking Garage"), it's not just a lover who's left him -- it's his last chance. And on "Dreaming of a Place," it isn't the details about an idyllic getaway that he sells you on, but rather the defeatism of never getting there.
As lonesome singers go, Ruggles is pretty versatile, as he's got a clear tenor, a sedate baritone, a mournful yodel and an occasionally overwhelmed caterwaul he can haul out to illustrate a man coming to the end of his rope, probably in the middle of the living room. And at the center of all this sprawling sonic sadness are the odd quiet moments when a puzzled xylophone or a doleful violin says everything a human voice ran out of words to convey. But don't you noise merchants worry -- Once has its moments of sound and fury, too, proving the band can thrash just as well as it pines. Lonely might not be a place you want to hang around for too long, but for 40-odd minutes, you're in the best of company.