Mister Goblin’s latest release, Four People In An Elevator and One Of Them Is The Devil, is an album that Sam Goblin describes as being both “absurd” and his first concept album. He points out that it is “probably no coincidence that these things are co-occurring.” Building upon the emotional range of his music as Mister Goblin (and with Two Inch Astronaut before that), Four People… is another fine example of Goblin’s impactful and melodic songwriting, with an added confidence that allows him to get progressively goofier without a care. That deepened sense of humor lays roots, but there’s an unshaken intimacy and vulnerability that are never far behind. Mister Goblin is not concerned with keeping up with the times or a unified stylistic approach, as he instead turns focus toward the 2010 movie “Devil,” a film that Goblin says is “not an amazing movie, but I think it’s an interesting jumping off point for conversations about culpability, blame, ideas of good and evil, and just morality in general.”
With two Mister Goblin releases already out in the world, the hurdles of writing for a solo project rather than Goblin’s former band have become less significant. Four People… captures Mister Goblin with a heightened confidence in mapping out the majority of the instrumentation on his own. The songs were demoed and sent to the album’s producer Seth Engel (Options), who learned the drum parts and added his own embellishments. The two recorded the record over the span of a week at Engel’s own Pallet Sound in Chicago. “When we had the basic tracking done, I sent a couple tracks out to Matt Gatwood to add some piano and cello layering, Mike Siegel to do some standup bass, and Sadie Dupuis to add some harmonies. Their parts were entirely their ideas,” shared Goblin.
Following 2019’s Is Path Warm?, a record that focused on his own experiences working in the metal health profession, Goblin began to write and arrange the songs on Four People… while in quarantine, a fitting time to pay tribute to a movie he describes as “very mediocre” that takes place largely in the isolation of a small room, in this case an elevator. He explores the ideas of “moral purism and who should be sorry and what does it mean to be truly sorry or truly repentant.” While the theme of the release is relatively loose beyond the album’s opener (“The Devil”), Mister Goblin does play with the idea of being “the proverbial devil in the elevator” throughout a reflective record which touches upon sentiments of disappointment, empathy, and gratitude. it’s a record that feels human, an honest reflection on both connections and avoidance, for better and worse.
That mix of humor and heartbreak finds Mister Goblin at its best on “Six Flags America,” the album’s lead single, a song about anticipation and eventual disappointment related to a cancelled trip to the amusement park. Goblin and frequent collaborator Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz/Sad13) trade verses over the interwoven acoustic guitars and cello, offering a shattering emotional landscape that invokes the youthful anticipation of getting on the biggest roller coaster in the park only to come the harsh reality that the trip isn’t happening. The song’s composition really expands on that sorrow with Gatwood’s well orchestrated cello and Goblin's dejected vocals.
While other songs find Mister Goblin attempting to understand scammers taking advantage of the elderly as Goblin imagines them as actors looking for work (“Hook In The Eye”) and examining hurt distributed to those we love most (“At Least”), Four People… finds a comfort in being able to follow these ideas in an idiosyncratic way, as one thought leads to another, and the pieces come together in a unique yet cohesive whole.