The Goat Wizard continue their kaleidoscopic run of subversive prog-rock

“Mobile Government Sitcom” dances to its own singular groove.
Image description: The cover of The Goat Wizard’s album “Mobile Government Sitcom” is shown against a static-y black-and-white background.

“Mobile Government Sitcom” dances to its own singular groove.

Tenacity has served The Goat Wizard well. Following the band’s 2016 album The Anthromancer, there was a seven-year gap of no new releases. But from 2018 to 2022, the quartet—currently made up of Luis Gonzalez (guitar), Liam McCarty (drums), Will Patton (bass, vocals), and Greyson Sztuczko (guitar, vocals)—dedicated what was clearly an enormous amount of time and effort into recording the band’s latest album, Mobile Government Sitcom. Writing for the record extended further back, adding up to six total years of work. All of that dedication has paid off in exhilarating fashion, because that record, released in late January 2023, doesn’t sound like anything else that’s currently happening in Madison music.

For as supposedly “progressive” as prog-rock is made out to be, the majority of what presently passes for that genre is surprisingly rote. Somewhere along the genre’s history, an emphasis on subversion and inventiveness were superseded by uninspiring jam-band tendencies. The Goat Wizard swing the pendulum back in the other direction on Mobile Government Sitcom by incorporating a disparate slate of influences, from chiptune (McCarty and Patton were Moth_OS’ principal members on the electronic project’s 2021 EP Mothware, though McCarty has since stepped away from that particular project) to soft rock to post-punk. On tracks like the seven-minute album centerpiece “Cyberbeard,” the band shifts from sounding like They Might Be Giants to Pink Floyd to Tool to Sparks in a matter of measures.

None of this is particularly new territory for The Goat Wizard, a band that was initially conceived when Gonzalez and Patton were students at Appleton’s Lawrence University. After releasing 2015’s Are These Demos?!?!!, the band began an ongoing fluctuation period. For The Anthromancer, they became a quintet, with the four currently active members joined by guitarist/vocalist Alex Kurki (who also appears in a limited role on Mobile Government Sitcom). No matter how many members the lineup boasts, the vision at the project’s core has remained unflinchingly focused. The Goat Wizard, refreshingly, aren’t afraid to take risks beyond the realms of eternal noodling on atypical time signatures. Tracks like The Anthromancer‘s “Litmus” are a testament to the band’s propensity to take wild swings with a surprising amount of conviction, evidencing the ambition that ultimately defines Mobile Government Sitcom.

In an email to Tone Madison, Patton notes that a large bulk of the work the band put into the album happened in 2022, likely as a result of the quarantine constraints being eased. Introductory track “Cold Open” flashes the level of thoughtfulness the members poured into the writing and recording elements; cascading vocals fall with grace over a treble-y guitar figure before the track hits a climactic feedback swell that abruptly cuts out, providing a perfect launchpad for the sprightly “Garmonbozia.”

Almost immediately, Mobile Government Sitcom hints at a healthy amount of influence from the post-punk revival acts of the early-to-mid 2000s, while successfully retaining the band’s innate ability to stand out as something borderline uncategorizable. “Dirt Episode,” the album’s third track, keeps the momentum surging forward as  one of a small handful of tracks on the album that’s lightly reminiscent of Patton and McCarty’s recent work in Moth_OS. On “The Host (Zombie Shuffle),” The Goat Wizard nimbly expands to a sextet, incorporating memorable vocal contributions from Kurki and Andrew Gurney to create a playfully eerie atmosphere that provides Mobile Government Sitcom with a bit of additional levity.

Given the events of the past several years, that levity is warranted, as the impact of that time has ostensibly left a mark on the lyrical narratives strewn throughout the album. Meditations on death litter Mobile Government Sitcom‘s landscape. “I wonder if I’ll ever disappear” is a memorable line in “Garmonbozia,” while “I saw you well-preserved in chapters of dirt” gives “Chapters of Dirt (Ghost #2)” its title. “The Audience” incorporates another direct look at mortality with a peculiar, compelling hook:

Hear the news, his death resounds
Hear ye neighbors, gather ’round
(Wonder who’ll take his place)
Pastor, pastor, bless his soul
(One day, you’ll say “my grace”)
Bells alight now hear the…

And in the ellipsis, all music cuts out to let a lone bell’s tolling resonate, supplying a clever punctuation mark in the process. All throughout the album, the narrators that anchor the lyrical conceits of Mobile Government Sitcom grapple with the understanding that our collective time is finite, and that experiencing all of life’s euphoria and travails are meaningful. Whether that’s sailing some high-concept sea to reach a cosmic end (“Cyberbeard”) or tunneling into the earth to unravel some of life’s mysteries at the literal core (“Dirt Episode”), there will always be purpose. It’s a profound truth that’s given an eloquent send-off in Mobile Government Sitcom‘s closing track, “Barely (Ghost #1),” which chronicles the act of being reborn, while still making room to honor a life lived. “Reborn, transformed / I’ll sail evermore / The legend is told / A ghost in my wake.”

Not only is Mobile Government Sitcom a significant jump forward for The Goat Wizard, but they’ve also further invigorated what has become a relatively tired genre, despite the best efforts of forward-thinking bands like Palm, Black Midi, Empath, Thumpermonkey, and Guerilla Toss.The Goat Wizard can now confidently count themselves as a peers of those bands. But at the end of the day, comparisons can only do so much. The Goat Wizard still only sound like themselves, and that fact alone is worth a good deal of celebration.

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