When The Mountain Goats play The Black Sheep Aug. 18, they’ll bring three albums’ worth of new material since their last Colorado visit, all produced and mixed during the pandemic. Dark in Here (Merge) was recorded in Muscle Shoals in March 2020, but the common themes of emerging from places of sadness fit our current ethos, making it the best of three.

John Darnielle’s home-recorded 2020 solo album, Songs for Pierre Chuvin, addresses pandemic loneliness, and the full band recorded Getting Into Knives in Memphis before heading to Muscle Shoals. The result is an accidental trilogy of pain and redemption. The Memphis album may have been the first to integrate a larger band sound, primarily with woodwinds and piano newcomer Matt Douglas, but Dark in Here is the full realization of that sound.

Skeptics who dismiss the lush new band as Darnielle with a lite-jazz ensemble should take a listen to the title cut or “Parisian Enclave,” which work as well as the band’s most minimal work. Some songs might try too much lyrically — “The Slow Parts on Death Metal Albums,” for example. But they can be forgiven some excess after giving the world such a tremendous body of work in a year most would like to forget.


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Lucy Dacus, Home Video (Matador) – You’ll often hear that Dacus’ third album is a masterpiece of lyrical self-disclosure, but the exquisite perfection in music arrangement should not be ignored. Dacus uses a rich voice resembling Hejira-era Joni Mitchell on tracks like “Christine” and “VBS,” and it often seems as though every guitar chord or piano riff was eternally tweaked for maximum effect. Addressing adolescent crushes as perfectly as the song “Brando” does is achievement in itself, but combining it with flawless musical delivery is equally impressive.

Split Single, Amplificado (Inside Outside Records) – If Jason Narducy isn’t familiar as a member of Superchunk, he’s also been a session musician with a host of stars. Split Single marries Narducy, Mike Mills (REM) and Jon Wurster (Mountain Goats), but if this is a supergroup, it’s Narducy’s show — songs like “Blood Break Ground” and “Mangled Tusk” might prove he rises to the level of Superchunk founder Mac McCaughan.