Before I start, a mission statement: Modest Mouse is second year Radiohead. By that I mean that no band has ever captured the constant ennui, meaninglessness, and worries of being 19-22 as these guys have and do. Like Radiohead gave us fear of technology and “Fitter Happier” caterwauling, and did it perfectly, Modest Mouse gives us long cold roads, fear of death, and the horror of confronting the rest of our lives, by ourselves, for the first time. It’s more mature than your teenage bands; it’s thoughtful on a critical and at times profound level, without giving into cheap misery or melodrama. I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I’m living my Modest Mouse you’ll be!
That said, another day, another album for our meek murines (if you have a bizarre perception of time)! They’re still all sad and shit, and still likin’ their instrument frailing, but now they seem to be more interested than before in writing somewhat normal songs. Sure, they open the album with the angry, multi-part alienator “Teeth Like God’s Shineshoe” and have a handful of tracks that have those lengthy instrumental codas, but for the most part they’re being vaguely conventional. More than one song goes verse-chorus-verse, there’s a standard “acoustic guitar song,” and many of the lyrics are about normal things like internal strife and existential bitterness, instead of hammering home dreary landscapes again and again for 76 minutes like on their first proper album (even if they do go all the way around the USA on “Trucker’s Atlas”).
But even if they’re more conventional this time around, our reticent rodents are still plenty weird compared to 93% or so of music around! A story about a native named “Cowboy Dan”? Awesome! Taking a wackily sympathetic approach to and in “Trailer Trash”? Fantasmic! Another crazy movie plot? Weeeaah! They’re way more instrumentally experimental this time around – “Jesus Christ Was an Only Child” consists of a lovable mess of fiddle screeching and acoustic guitaring. “Heart Cooks Brain” actually has scratching (but tastefully thank god). “Bankrupt on Selling” is a goshdarn ballad. And the excellent “Convenient Parking” is their most concise, angry complaint about sprawl yet.
And so angry this time around! Yipes. Brocky would never again sound so incensed. And so clever! And never ever ever happy, naturally. But that’s good! Happy music makes me sad. Here are a few devastating lyics:
1. “Soon the chain reaction started in the parking lot / Waiting to bleed onto the big streets / That bleed out onto the highways / And off to other cities built to store and sell these rocks” from “Convenient Parking.”
2. “I’ll go to college and I’ll learn some big words / And I’ll talk really loud, god damn right I’ll be heard / You’ll remember the guy who said all those big words he must’ve learned in college” from “Bankrupt on Selling.”
3. “I’m on my way to god don’t know / My brain’s the weak heart and my heart’s the long stairs / Inward from the Vancouver shore / The ravens and the seagulls push each other / Inward and outward.” from “Heart Cooks Brain.”
So, what’s wrong with this slab of music? Well, I liked the unending death-march feel of “Long Drive” more. Some of these introverted lyrics get a little hackneyed, like that “I’m trying to drink away the part of the day that I cannot sleep away” refrain of “Polar Opposites.” And a couple of the lengthy instrumental endings, namely the FIVE MINUTES after “Trucker’s Atlas” and four minutes of “It’s All Nice on Ice” really do seem like unplanned blah jamming, not the focused playing that characterized their other instrumental endings. And “Shit Luck” is absolutely terrible! Angsty screaming lyrics plus a sub-Led Zeppelin riff? What the eff is this ess?
Still, Modest Mouse are great, and this album is grate. Even with the bad parts omitted it’s like an hour of good music, fun times, and hot chicks. Any band that credits a “Bartender” is a friend of mine. Though Isaac Brock would die in the battle of Queenston Heights shortly afterwards, he would still be regarded, rightfully so, as a Canadian hero. Speaking of which, why do they keep putting gay marriage to the will of plebiscites? Minority rights are not the domain of the majority, because the majority tends to trample on them. Also, let’s leave the fate of Israel up to a referendum in Saudi Arabia.