Album Review: Mister Goblin – Bunny

4/5

After his original group, Two Inch Astronaut, disbanded in 2018, Maryland-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sam Goblin wasted no time becoming a solo act. And thus, Mister Goblin was born. Goblin has been quite prolific over the last four years, releasing two full-length albums: Is Path Warm? in 2019 and Four People In An Elevator And One Of Them Is The Devil in 2021 (find a better album title, I’ll wait).

Mister Goblin’s third album, Bunny, is named in honor of Goblin’s pet rabbit, who causes him to wax poetic about death—a central theme of the album. When a rabbit is attacked by a predator, its spine breaks immediately, affording it a quick and painless death. Goblin finds peace in this mechanism, and invites us all to be a little more like bunnies by, “being more conscious of the fact that we’re all going to die and keeping that at the forefront.” This, he says, “might help us to live more fulfilling lives.”

Bunny opens with the heavy-hitting borderline hardcore track “Military Discount,” which is also its second single. Despite its intense drums, wailing guitars, and screaming vocals, it quickly morphs into a straight up grunge song. This is about the time you realize Goblin is screaming unexpected lines like, “military discount at the firework store; everyone else is gonna pay in full,” and “I got the hook-up on the sparklers!” The more melodic bridge vocals actually bring Kurt Cobain to mind, which is yet another pleasant surprise.

“Good Son/Bad Seed” follows in the footsteps of the opener, but almost edges into an emo vibe at times. This song is a mix of violent guitar bursts and extremely melodic hooks spliced together, which follows the theme of its title, and certainly fits with dichotomous lyrics like, “good son/bad seed, good boy/bad deed, good lord/check please.” All of this makes the emphatic “fuck that!” and random screams feel extra cathartic.

The third track, “In Indiana,” takes us into the slower side of the album. This is a song full of depressing imagery and drear, and is certainly not a good ad for spending any time whatsoever in Indiana. Lyrics like, “birds are acting really strange; huddling in transformers raining shit on everything within their range” really set the tone. It’s ultimately a slow building ‘90’s grunge song punctuated by Goblin’s screaming vocals, which are reminiscent of Christopher Hall of Stabbing Westward at times—especially when delivering lines like, “there’s no one all the way out here to hear you scream—just go ahead and try it, see what I mean!” at its crescendo.

“Holiday World,” the album’s lead single, is quite poppy by comparison and carries an early Weezer level of alternative indie eccentricity and appeal. “You’re stuck with me now, here in holiday world; you’re right to be afraid!” Goblin warns. The catchy guitar riffs are supported by quiet piano moments. (As a cool aside, the Spotify video loop for this song features an actual bunny!)

The upbeat feelings dissipate with the next track, “Temporary Light,” which is best described as a depressing love ballad dedicated to death itself. Slow melancholy guitar licks fit well with Goblin’s desolate voice singing lines like, “when they snuff me out, you and all I cared about are just trails of smoke,” “let the ashes fly,” and the even more macabre, “digested by the vultures.”

“Red Box” is certainly a stand out track for its sedate stripped-down beauty—and also for the fact that it is quite literally an entire song devoted to Redbox (yes, the precise one you’re thinking of right now). “I think I know a place outside the CVS,” Goblin sings, complemented by the harmonies of Sadie Dupuis, “scarlet and towering, such a miracle of vending.” Such poetry for the commonplace! But surely that is the point. “Because all I want to do is walk to the Redbox with you,” Goblin sings with immense longing, “even if all they have are shitty sequels to ‘The Bourne Supremacy.’” This is a haunting lament for the seemingly mundane aspects of relationships that are missed even after they’re long gone.

Check out the ode to the scarlet tower in video form:

With its spooky background susurration, “I’m Out” is a perfect follow-up act for “Red Box.” The slow acoustic guitar builds a similar world, complete with Dupuis once again on backing vocals. “The shelves are lined with science fiction and heartbreak; there’s nothing more disgusting than the truth,” Goblin begins, “there’s no wild imagination that could conjure what they’ve done to you and I.” This at first evokes imagery of a world shattered by a pandemic, but as it progresses it appears to be about the demise of a relationship. Strange how it’s almost the same thing! The song ends with a despondent apology.

“One Year Dark” is a fitting closer to the diverse album, comparing the unbridled hope of the grade school age with the crushing defeat of modern adulthood. “It was possible once, now everything’s fucked. Where is the future? One year dark,” Goblin sings as a repeated refrain, in-between reciting warped takes on common aphorisms like, “can’t fall farther than the shoe already dropped,” all the worst things are free, too,” and, “you’ll miss 100% of the shoots you don’t shot.”

Bunny will surely find its place in a world newly re-infatuated with grunge (thanks to The Batman’s Nirvana-centered soundtrack) and the reprisal of 2003-era emo (whatever that’s called these days). It’s an eclectic collection of almost-hardcore, post-punk, indie, and at times a hint of, dare I coin it, aughts emo.

Presented on this album for the first time as a full band (with drummer Seth Engel and bassist Aaron O’Neill), Mister Goblin is definitely heading in a good direction and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Bunny escapes its cage on April 22.

Get the album here.

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