Sandwiched between several albums of mixed low-fi and studio-produced songs and the band's lushly mastered, major label produced eleventh album, 2002's Texas harkens back to the Mountain Goats' early days in the realms of independent cassette-only labels. All songs are recorded on a Radio Shack boombox of such poor design that the built-in mic pickups the cassette head's audible grinding, and with the exception of a single song, all feature nothing more than the singing of John Darnielle (the only permanent Mountain Goat) and the strumming of an acoustic guitar.

A quick running perusal of this album's reviews would make you think that it's terrible: phrases like "passionate nasal-fi" and "the musical equivalent of a glass of water" abound. If one reads more closely, however, they discover nothing but praise. With folk-inspired music and deeply touching lyrics, Texas's "fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys" deliver a touching alternative to over-produced art rock, annoyingly preachy folk and bland sugar pop in one inexpensive cardboard-and-plastic package.

01. The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton

When you punish a person for dreaming his dream, don't expect him to thank or forgive you.
The best ever death metal band out of Denton will in time both outpace and outlive you.
Hail Satan!

The first track paints a six-verse picture of two boys who attempt to start a death metal band, only to find one member put in a treatment facility and the other angered enough that he corresponds via mail on a "plan to get even." This song is a stirring example of what John Darnielle does best--painting the feelings and emotions of a single moment in time.

02. Fall Of The Star High School Running Back

By July, you'd made a whole bunch of brand new friends, people you used to look down on . . .

The closest thing to a pure-folk song on the album, we hear the story of Bill Donahue, high school football star, who, injured in an out-of-town game, turns to selling acid only to find himself in jail. Once again, not a story, more of a painting of a moment in time, without judgment calls of any kind.

03. Color In Your Cheeks

They came in by the dozens, walking or crawling.
Some were bright-eyed.
Some were dead on their feet.

The picture: A soup kitchen or a shelter, a place with a reputation for solitude and quiet, sits in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, aiding those in need.

04. Jenny

And you pointed your head lamp toward the horizon,
we were the one thing in the galaxy god didn't have his eyes on . . .

G-Major chords bounce around a preening, descriptive love song for a Kawasaki motorcycle and its driver as they pull up to a house, hair and exhaust mixing together, and the singer jumps on the back and rides into the distance.

05. Fault Lines

And it's gone on like this, for 3 years i guess.
And we're drunk all the time and our lives are a mess.
And the deathless love we swore to protect with our bodies
is stumbling across its bleak ending . . .

We revisit a popular theme in the Goats' songs: a couple on the edge of separation. United in "frivolous spending" from a huge win years ago in Vegas, material things still can't bring the protagonist together with his mate.

06. Balance

Two tall glasses of sweet iced tea
underneath the sweet gum tree,
and the love we once nurtured, you and me,
disintegrating violently.

This song continues track five's theme of impending separation. Cracks appear in the parts of interpersonal dealings that can't be hidden, emotions fray, and the relationship's disastrous finale is approaching, but nobody involved can manage to come forward and end its thrashing.

07. Pink And Blue

Wind out of Oklahoma this morning smelled like blood and smoke.
And the crows discuss their future in the branches of their Louisiana Live Oak.

We hear of: A man (or a woman) raises a newborn baby in the midst of poverty, with a produce box for a cradle and hand-mashed bananas to eat; still, the child is the most beautiful thing in the world.

08. Riches And Wonders

I am healthy, I am whole, but i have poor impulse control.
And I want to go home.
But i am home.

A brief respite from the theme of collapsing relationships; a love song that expounds on the finer parts of a couple's relationship, yet, like every true love song, there are hints of sadness: the singer holds his love and wishes to go home, unable to acknowledge that his real home is in his love's arms.

09. The Mess Inside

We took two weeks in the Bahamas,
went out dancing every night,
tried to fight the creeping sense of dread with temporal things . . .

A couple tries to save their relationship, traveling to all the places they loved together, only to find that a change of location can't recapture their love for each other.

10. Jeff Davis County Blues

My walk's real steady and my eyes are real cold,
but i feel like I'm all of sixteen years old.

A man is released (or escapes) from jail, and drives the highways of west Texas. He's coming home to somebody he can't stand to think about, and although he looks tough he is torn up on the inside. Is he a stalker or a boyfriend?

11. Distant Stations

I waited for you, but i never told you where i was.
It was you who taught me how to write these kinds of equations.

A man, maybe a child, waits outside a motel for somebody he knows to arrive, somebody who taught him to see something beyond what he normally does. They don't no he is coming, and he hides when cars pass, embarrassed.

12. Blues In Dallas

Will i see you there when that final trumpet blows?

In this gospel-inspired folk song, the singer wonders if he will be joined by somebody he cares about after an event of unspecified detail occurs.

13. Source Decay

I wish the west Texas highway was a Möbius Strip;
I could ride it out for ever when i feel my heart break . . .

The album's longest song, E, A and F# chords chug out the story a man makes his weekly drive to Texas to collect postcards of varying detail about the travels of an unspecified friend. His widely ranging travels create an intentional mystery, and the protagonist is exhausted by it all.

14. Absolute Lipthos Effect

The big trucks come up the highway, and the big wheels rattle my windows, and night, night comes to Texas.

A man is leaving Texas, its loud trucks and desolate weather, but he will never forget it. All he needs, he says, is a little mercy.

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