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On their latest, the Mountain Goats replace dysfunction with – even more dysfunction

Pray that John Darnielle's friends don't crash your party. Pray that they won't show up on your doorstep all strung out, pissed off, and half-cocked, ready to kill or fuck anything in their path. The Catholic who works at the convenience store is a real buzz-kill when he starts bragging about shooting some guy in the face. And the vagabond tweaker in tape-covered sweat pants is kind of freaky when he's chatting about cryptic symbols and invasive carpenter ants.

Count on Darnielle to personally introduce you to all of them when he comes through town in support of We Shall All Be Healed (4AD). This latest record from his band, the Mountain Goats, is like a frat party for freaks. Longtime MG fans will note that Darnielle has abandoned the urgent confessionals of the "Alpha Couple" that dominated his last two offerings, choosing instead to pen tributes to meth-head revolutionaries and paranoid freeloaders. But even though the Alpha Couple has been retired, Darnielle's new material suffers no lack of frustrated dysfunction. "Let's go where the jackals are breathing/ Wrap this bandanna around your head, don't let anyone see that you're bleeding," he half-shouts on the standout "Home Again Garden Grove." Then he explains: "Our dreams were like fugitive warlords/ Plotting triumphant returns to the city, keeping Tec-9s tucked under the floorboards." It's hair-raising stuff to be sure, and when Darnielle spazzes through these monologues live, expect a performance that is jammed with bursts of raw energy. Delivered with the spitty snarl and muscular acoustic guitar that've become Darnielle's calling cards, the Mountain Goats' combustible live sets are a far cry from your average guy-with-a-guitar shtick. Tec-9 in hand or not, you'd better be ready for a trip.

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