Pressing Concerns: Mister Goblin, ‘Bunny’

Release date: April 22nd
Record label: Exploding in Sound
Genre: Post-hardcore, alt-rock, indie folk
Formats: Vinyl, digital

This was supposed to be alt-country week on Pressing Concerns (and we’ll still get to it), but I cannot ignore Bunny any longer. The third Mister Goblin full-length record comes a little more than a year after 2021’s Four People in an Elevator and One of Them Is the Devil (which, if you will recall, I named one of the best albums of last year), and what a difference 14 months can make. Four People in an Elevator was largely recorded by Mister Goblin mastermind Sam Goblin alone; Bunny is the first Mister Goblin record featuring a full-on band (bassist Aaron O’Neill and Options’ Seth Engel on drums), and it shows. Sam Goblin wrote of the album that it was his first made “without cutting corners…because of time constraints, money, inferiority complex, whatever” and while (clearly) I don’t think any of his previous work sounds half-finished or uninspired, Bunny in particular sounds like a record made in a full-throated manner.

You might be forgiven for thinking that “no cutting corners” means “embracing being a loud, shouty post-hardcore band” based off of opening track and single “Military Discount”. Although the song definitely features a melody buried in the verses and somewhat uncovered in the chorus, Goblin and the band rip their way through the track with Brainiac-esque reckless showmanship. This is at best an oversimplification and at worst a just plain wrong way to look at Bunny, though—I think Goblin’s quote just means that when the band wants to go for it, like in the desperate-for-musical-fireworks “Military Discount”, they can really go for it.

Other tracks on the record, like “Good Son/Bad Seed” and “Safe Words”, come off as invigorated versions of hard/soft balanced sound that Sam Goblin has been pursuing since his Two Inch Astronaut days, and there are several songs on Bunny that wouldn’t have been out of place in Four People in an Elevator’s more subdued, chillier, indie folk-adjacent climes. That includes the closing acoustic trio of songs (such as the Sadie Dupuis-featuring “Red Box”, which is, to misquote the song, something of a non-shitty sequel to Elevator’s Dupuis duet, “Six Flags America”), but this also applies to the mid-tempo perfect pop song “Holiday World” and album midpoint “Temporary Light”, a curious mortality rumination in which Goblin pulls off “weary” and “spirited” in a way that reminds me of why he’s one of my favorite vocalists.

The other thread of Bunny I find particularly enjoyable is Sam Goblin embodying his new identity as an Indiana Guy. Don’t get me wrong, the D.C.-area transplant to Bloomington is still making Dischord-influenced spiky rock music, and similarly-minded Jawbox’s J. Robbins co-produced it. It comes out in Goblin’s lyric-writing a bit, though—obviously “In Indiana” is the most overt one (“You have the right of way if you’ve got a car or a truck,” he observes at one point, and then later “The land is endless—there’s no one all the way out here to hear you scream”), but you’ve also got “Holiday World” embracing (in a somewhat troubling manner) a piece of local color, “Military Discount” reacting to the Krazy Kaplans Fireworks state line industrial complex in the only sane way possible, and “Red Box”—well, I’m sure they have Red Boxes in states other than Indiana, but I feel like they’re probably somehow more culturally important in the Hoosier state than elsewhere.

The hushed “Red Box” is breathtaking and it’s a gold-star edition to a certain growing subset of Sam Goblin’s songwriting, but it’s the less transparent final two songs of the quiet Bunny closing trilogy that might represent the pinnacle of this side of Mister Goblin. “I’m Out” feels like it’s got the toughest lyrics on Bunny (hell, of the entire Mister Goblin experience); it reminds me of last year’s “At Least”, but at least “At Least” had a big, classic post-hardcore Goblin finish—“I’m Out” offers no such relief, and the rest of the record clues you in on just how intentional that must be. Closing track “One Year Dark” feels a little more generally relatable, speaking to a more widespread shitty feeling, but that doesn’t really make the song go down any easier. Beautiful lap steel from Andrew Krull colors Sam Goblin’s attempts to wring something out of “this mess” (“A rotting piñata, a clogged up artery / All the worst things are free too” is the line I keep thinking about, although the simplicity of ones like “You can’t fall farther than the shoe already dropped” and “It was possible once and now everything’s fucked” is sadly beautiful too).

Four People in an Elevator and One of Them Is the Devil excited me about the future of Mister Goblin because it felt like a showcase for the growing acumen of Sam Goblin the songwriter (and he was already a pretty good one in the first place). Bunny hasn’t deviated from the trajectory one bit, and has added another wrinkle: a full band that is capable of realizing and elevating Goblin’s ambitions for his songs without homogenizing them or stunting their evolution. That, combined with Mister Goblin conquering the Midwest…what’s next?

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