Lots of indie bands get press from 'zines and alternative rags, but when you get some love from the New Yorker, then you've got that rarefied air of intelligentsia's critical acclaim. John Darnielle, former nurse and New Times music freelancer, received the highbrow treatment last month -- when he was depicted as "America's best non-hip-hop lyricist" -- and one hopes that the Mountain Goats leader doesn't let the accolade go to his head. After years of underground tapes and fictional narratives, Darnielle has looked inward for this year's almost polished The Sunset Tree, a moving song cycle about parental abuse and childhood self-determination. Though his production budget has increased, he continues to shape his material mostly around jittery acoustic guitars and his nerdish, sincere voice. On occasion, his band's skeletal arrangements can seem frustratingly slight, but hopefully in concert this smart guy will connect with an audience appreciative of literate, intimate short-story honesty.
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