The first of three compilations drawing together compilation appearances, singles, and tape-only efforts from throughout the '90s, Protein Source of the Future...Now! may be designed for fans first and foremost, but also serves as a fine introduction to Darnielle's world of knowledge, wit, emotion, and musical range. His liner notes are not only entertaining reading, but a statement of purpose. Rather than organizing this effort and its subsequent follow-ups chronologically, he preferred to assemble his archive "as though it'd just been found among a bunch of tapes in an airtight container buried in the snow." With 23 songs in 50 minutes, the collection is testimony to both Darnielle's ear for economy in his songs and his belief that lyrics and music are fully complementary. Beginning with the brisk "Going to Tennessee" -- which kicks off with talk of a Darnielle obsession, namely the start of baseball season -- Protein Source covers a lot of ground with style. Nearly everything is just Darnielle and acoustic guitar, but anyone who has seen him perform that way knows that's often all he needs. That said, the combination of soft-drone keyboard and punchy drum machine backing him on "Going to Malibu" and the high, sweet synth melody of "Pure Honey" makes for some brilliant, heartfelt performances. The differences in recording often provide interesting contrasts; compare "The Window Song," with Darnielle in slightly higher voice with Bright Mountain Choir backing, and the rougher, strained delivery of "Seed Song." Other worthies: the near-T. Rex chug of "Third Snow Song" (brilliant line: "I can feel the cold air coming in through my teeth") and the affecting melancholy of "Duke Ellington." Killer bit in the song descriptions: "Is there any sacrifice I would not make to hear Spandau Ballet doing 'Billy the Kid's Dream of the Magic Shoes'?" No. No, there is not."
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett