It’s hard to think of a more appropriate pairing than Los Angeles and the mainstream music industry; they’re both glitzy, polluted, ever-expanding monsters. The Inland Empire, a collection of tidy, sleepy, resolutely conventional suburbs located an hour’s drive from LA, is LA’s antithesis. It is also home to Shrimper, a tiny recording label that’s similarly dissimilar to the music biz. Shrimper’s bands share a common ethic: they record the music they want to hear, and they record it where they’d hear it, i.e., on low-rent equipment in their homes. The Mountain Goats are a perfect example of a Shrimper band: their releases, dominated by tape hiss, tape-machine rumble, and incidental noise, break just about every rule about what constitutes a “good” recording. They aren’t even a band, really; John Darnielle writes, sings, plays, and records most of his songs solo, although the Bright Mountain Choir, four women he’s known since childhood, occasionally contribute wobbly backing vocals. He sings in earnest, declamatory tones and strums his acoustic guitar with an uncommon fervor, but what makes the Mountain Goats great are his superbly crafted, highly personal songs. He may not sing about himself directly, but after listening to his tales of travel, Roman outlaws, Peruvian terrorists, malevolent seals, and disastrous relationships, you feel like you know the guy. Darnielle and one member of the choir are playing their Chicago debut in support of the band’s first album-length CD, Zopilote Machine, which is being released by Chicago’s Ajax Records. They open for Coral and Fudge (who’re covered in this week’s Spot Check). Saturday, 10:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 276-3600.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Virginia Lee Hunter.