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John Darnielle is an astounding writer. This fact becomes abundantly clear as you wind your way through his autobiographical ode colored by the tender rebellious hues of adolescence. Within this standard trope hides a secret of abuse, which in lesser hands could seem manipulative and exploitive. But despite the tough subject matter and generally grim tone of the album, it's carried by an enduring sense of resilience. The first half of the album is highlighted by "Dilaudid," which sounds like Wedding Present with cellos instead of guitars, and the hopeful tale of vehicular larceny "This Year." However, it's the stunning second half that steals the show, beginning with the album's centerpiece, "Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod," which poses Darnielle as a tragic hero beset by a monster in the person of his abusive stepfather. It's followed by the bubbling folk rave "Magpie" and the wistful "Song for Dennis Brown," with its haunting opening guitar homage to Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." The cycle's capped by the evocative "Love Love Love," on which Darnielle sings, "some things you'll do for money, and some you'll do for fun, but the things you do for love are going to come back to you one by one."

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