Modest Mouse – No One’s First and You’re Last

Old friends are great things, most people seem to recognize. If that sounds weaselly, it’s because I just had a frustrating conversation with my roommate where he disagreed with my statement that “true friends are harder to find than people who’ll have sex with you,” but I think he was just in a bitter mood. Unless you’re some sort of sociopath, you realize the value in keeping around people that are like comfy sweaters, and you’ve had the rewarding experience of seeing someone from the past and realizing they’re with the present too.

Modest Mouse is an old friend to me. I hit peak MM at ages 22-23, when they had a capacious back catalogue for me to explore and explore it I did, until I never needed to hear “Neverending Math Equation” ever again. We weren’t friends because of riffs, we were friends because their gestalt rhymed with my dark, stupid soul.
I’m a sensitive guy, and I fail horribly at being stoic a good portion of the time. Here’s a few of the things that’ve made me nearly cry lately:

1. Talking to a therapist about how missing my (dead) mom still makes Christmas hard to get through (complete with her telling me to “suck it up”!)

2. My girlfriend being mad at me for being a little too willing to make female friends.

3. Forgetting someone’s name on the street and her obviously being peeved at me for it.

4. The sickening realization, for the 8000th time, that I’ll always be an emotionally damaged weirdo.

And that’s not even counting the endless despair I feel about factory farming, the suburbs, and parking lots! I have many good times, but I am at heart a serious man, and I get a similar feeling from Modest Mouse and Isaac Brock in particular, misguided as I might be. And from the first few jagged notes of this stopgap EP – eight songs, most of them previously released as B-sides or on soundtracks – I felt that familiar comfort of listening to a similar though infinitely more musically talented spirit. Hey, I don’t even know what most of these songs are about – except that one had a music video about whaling and that there’s another one called “The Whale Song” so I guess that’s two of them – but the off-kilter feeling of the guitars and vocals remind me that I’m not alone in my dissatisfaction and my conviction that it’s rather important, even if Mr. Brock is not as inwardly focused as I tend to be.

Of course, this all wouldn’t mean much if the songs were garbage, and they’re all just “pretty good” (except for the old B-side of “Float On,” “I’ve Got It All (Most),” which you can tell is execrable by its title alone), but hey, “pretty good” is good enough for me! Especially “King Rat” and “History Sticks To Your Feet” – them’s some good distortions!

So, this meeting with an old friend is more like meeting with an old friend and finding them to be…pretty good. No big adventures, no world-shaking epiphanies, no luculence into life’s mysteries, but hey, Modest Mouse is still out there, and probably about to release something really good again. Something that’ll do most of that. That’ll do, pig, in EP form. Been too long, Isaac.

7 / 10

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Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

This is your Dad’s Modest Mouse. This is the inevitable expected decline, the price of fame and fortune and being so good for so long. And not that it’s bad, it’s very good, the songs are generally quite catchy, well produced, well written, well produced, but the resonant meaning of it all isn’t there. What was that Ben Folds called it? Selfless, cold, and composed. Well, they’re about 30% of the way there, and from here on out it’ll be a surprise if they put out an improvement ever again. It’s like when REM got old and the songs slowly became less memorable in a gestalt sense; more blankly reminiscent of earlier works, more reliant on cliches (“Missed the Boat”? Ugh! And on one of the best songs too!). Honestly, it sounds a lot like mid-90s alt-rock. Which is the exact thing they didn’t sound like when they came out! Okay, “Invisible” stands out quite a bit, especially as the closer (Recency Effect), but I can’t think its message is too original (“you’re not invisible inside your car” is the main line – didn’t they already do this during “Bury Me With It?” And environmental concerns are so stylish they unite liberals and conservatives) and I think it sounds like .

Their drummer’s name starting last album is “Joe Plummer” though! That’s funny! It’s both a reference to American politics AND a reference to The Clash!

Produced like GNFPWHN, but without all the musical variation, and I bet that passes for a “return to form” in these parts (reviews). Well it’s a lie, and it’s still very good, I admit. But there’s nothing here that grabs, and a few that actively suck, and the single sounds just like the last lead single, right down to sequencing, guitar tone, tempo, and cheerful “single lining” type outlook. Come on! Nothing against the lurching opener, or “People as Places as People,” but it feels like the die has been cast right away. Good, but not great ideas, lyrics, and playing. It’s sad, and I think we’re on our own from here on out. It was a good run, see you next album!

By the way, why is it that nowadays bands put out one great album (Band of Horses or Tokyo Police Club or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and on on and on) then suddenly lose it in a mess of sounding “atmospheric” and “lush” and “focusing more on texture instead of melody” or other complex synonyms for “shitty, but I want to present myself as ‘with it’ but more loyal than fickle kids these days”? It’s an epidemic and I’m sad. A 6.5 out of 10. Seniority makes it a low seven.

7/10 

Modest Mouse – Baron Von Bullshit Rides Again

It’s a live album!

I don’t get it. Even if I did, of course, I’d be far too preoccupied with my sexual difficulties of late to really care.

I don’t get it. Even if I did, of course, I’d be far too preoccupied with my financial insolvency to care.

I don’t get it. Even if I did, of course, I’d be far too preoccupied with my appearance (stomach fat in particular) to care.

I don’t get it. Why release this album? They’ve done way better live shows! They even have better live bootlegs (see “Atlanta Opening” above)! It’s only forty minutes and ten songs long for some reason!

Seriously, it’s mostly the same songs as “Atlanta Opening,” but shorter. One from “GNFPWLBN”, four from “TMAN”, three from “BNFS”, and two from “TLCW.” Oh boy, Isaac sounds like he has a headcold and slurs half his words. “Third Planet” and “Wild Pack of Family Dogs” are hurt by the apparent lack of available acoustic guitars. A lot of the rest sound sloppy. It’s nice that they extended “I Came As A Rat” and “Doin’ The Cockraoch,” really it is, but they hardly need it. I’m just not sure what the point is. This sounds like a pretty half-assed show to select for their semi-official release of live material. You’re never going to listen to it in place of their studio albums, or more than once or twice for curiosity.

I don’t get it. Even if I did, of course, live albums are rarely worth the internets I download them on.

4/10

Modest Mouse – Good News For People Who Love Bad News

Hi! I’m Penn and this is my partner Teller. There are a great number of myths in our culture, from ESP to endangered species to responsible government. On this show we expose those myths for the gobbledegook that they are by bringing in our team of reasonable experts to debunk the testimony of the wackjobs and liars on the other side. Plus, we show tits!

Now, sometimes those on the other side, the side of liars and hypocrites, get upset at us when our Cato Institute professionals are employed to uncover lies like recycling and second hand smoke. These ASSHOLES like to call us ideological corporate shills who misrepresent the positions of our opponents and rely on flashy ad hominem attacks instead of real arguments. They’re a bunch of ASSHOLES. (Random women making out) And now we’re really gonna piss them off! This next Pegasus has been a rallying cry of annoying feminists and whiny babies for what seems like centuries. It’s time to debunk it once and for all! RAPE is BULLSHIT!

(Credits. Teller, in a blonde wig, mimes being penetrated against his will) (Half an interview with a crazy radical feminist who claims that all sex is rape, cut off to call her an ASSHOLE.Teller mimes rubbing tears from his eyes. More random topless women make out with each other.) (Interview with a reasonable teacher who lost his job due to frivolous rape charge, uninterrupted and respectful) (Except of aforementioned woman saying “rape is no laughing matter.”) (Penn and Teller cut her off to dance around and make faces while singing “Na na na na na, we’re laughing at rape!”) (Interview with a Free Enterprise Institute lawyer (his past exile from the psychological community goes unmentioned) discussing game theory and how, evolutionarily, rape is quite normal in the animal kingdom, and many women only cry rape to not feel like sluts afterwards) (Penn and Teller visit the rape fetish community. Topless women make out with each other. Interview with a female rape fetishist about why she has this particular fetish.)

(Brief epithet-filled monologue) (Credits roll, our minds having been changed) Heyyy… Wait a second! But really, I just re-read Lolita and let me tell you, the last time I had sex with a twelve-year-old it wasn’t like that at all; there was way more screaming and crying and ahhhhh just kidding! This album is a huge departure from the ol’ Modest Mouse style! Few of the usual Modest Mouse elements, with mainly Isaac Brock’s voice, the clever, clever, depressing lyrics, and the penchant for curious guitar tones to hold it all together in a historical sense. What’s the deal with people saying “an historical” or pronouncing “Herb” and “‘erb” anyway? What are y’all, French? Why is this Modest Mouse album different from all prior Modest Mouse albums? You may have a series of questions, namely:

1. Why is it that on all other albums except the last one, the songs were barely produced once, but on this album they are produced all to hell? Probably because Modest Mouse had a lot of crazy ideas beyond continuous rambling tales of desolation, but it is strange to hear all the production going on. It’s not the orchestration of the last album; it’s more like a Flaming Lips album production-wise. Rapidly shifting guitar lines, swooshy sounds fading in and out of either speaker, drum machines filling up all the empty percussion space, sounds with eight million instruments, vocals bathed in filters. It’s quite odd really, but it’s necessary to make the songs work as well as they can, though you’ll miss the old guitars ‘n’ vocals ‘n’ rhythm w/ the occasional twangy space noise of yore. Plus, they could afford to.

2. Why is it that on all albums Isaac Brock is either singing in his inimitable lispy rasp or screaming at us, but on this album he only sings, except for like second during each chorus of “Bury Me With It” and “Dance Hall”? Anti-depressants is what Pitchfork suggests. I’d wager it’s more being able to come to terms with the resonant meaninglessness of existence (“The Good Times are Killing Me” makes it clear there’s been a lot of partying a-goin’ on). And some uppers.

3. Why is it that all other albums there’s a distinct theme, both musically and lyrically , but this album has none? Maybe they got tired of singing about desolation and stuff? Perhaps they just wanted to get more accessible; this is easily the quickest way into Modest Mouse’s catalog.

4. Why is it that all other Modest Mouse albums have either slow songs or fast songs, but this one has all sorts of craziness going on? Probably the aforementioned lack of theme. So there’s the usual couple songs about personal grief, in usual Modest Mouse-y ways (“The World At Large,” “One Chance”), but when taking on subjects they’re not used to, like a favourite poet (“Bukowski”) or Idon’tknowwhat (“Dance Hall”), it’s hard to see where they’d fit into MMs usual sprawling musical narrative.

The review page speaks of four sons, one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not know how to ask. Each of them phrases the question “Is this album any good?” in different ways. The wise son asks if the lyrics are as evocative and clever as other Modest Mouse releases. He should be told that yes, they generally are, though occasionally a little clumsy. “The World at Large” is a great sad self-reflecto, “Bukowski” contains both the line “Woke up this morning it seemed to me that every night turns out to be / A little bit more like Bukowski / And yeah I know he’s a pretty good read / But god who’d want to be such an asshole?” AND the line “If God controls the land and disease / And keeps a watchful eye on me / My problem is I can’t see / Who would want to be such a control freak?” “Bury Me With It” admonishes “Life handed us a paycheque / We said ‘we worked harder than this!'” And so on!

For the wicked son, with his stylish contemporary fashion, who asks only to see what this album means for him, he should be told that yes, this album should enrich his life in times of both happiness and sadness. If “One Chance” doesn’t give you pause, then you should go back to your Mozart, Nickelback, and Jackson Pollack.

To the simple son, who only wants to know if the songs are any fucking good, you should say “Usually. “The View,” the album’s mandatory disco-rocker, is maybe the best of them all, but mega-single “Float On” overcomes its lazy lyrics with an anthemic chorus, “Ocean Breathes Salty” is great once you realize how bitter it is, and the rest either have memorable melodies or clever enough lyrics to see them past the occasional overproduction and musical lulls. Note, however, that “Blame is on the Tetons” is a terrible country acoustic shit-a-thon, and “Black Cadillacs” tries too hard.

And for the son who does not know what to make of “This Devil’s Workday”, he should be told “I don’t know, I think Isaac thought he was Tom Waits or something.” I think a better title would have been “Good News For People Who Hate Niggers: They’re Stupid!” But you know what’s really funny? Rape!

8/10

Modest Mouse – Float On

A single! With two songs! Oh, I miss the days of each single having two CDs, and there would be three songs on each CD. It’s a pipe dream, though, I only felt that way because at the time I was listening to Isles bands like Blur and Manic Street Preachers, whose fans actually bought singles during their time of popularity (the 90s). Even then, the second CD would usually be filled with remixes or live tracks anyway. Modest Mouse are good enough, at least, to give us a non-album track to accompany the A-side, even though it’s not the awesome “White Lies Yellow Teeth.”
Instead it’s “I’ve Got It All (Most)”, which is deservedly a B-side. Apparently there’s an import with an acoustic version of “The Good Times are Killing Me,” which would be lovely, but this isn’t it! Damn you, legislation mandating only one other song to be on singles! Don’t you realize you’re only annoying fans who want more material for our money at all costs? Don’t you realize it only hurts CD sales more? I used to love and lust after B-sides voraciously as a teenager, now they’ve been dying and are almost dead. Shame shame shame.

As for “Float On,” it’s on the album and you know it; it’s overrated and way too happy (I’ve always felt the lyrics would be much better as a sad song), but hard to deny in its entirety.

5/10

Modest Mouse – Sad Sappy Sucker

Well, this is weird. Modest’s Mouse’s woulda-been first record, recorded back when the Smashing Pumpkins were commercially viable and Doom 2 was the best game ever. Also, it has like nine songs from Isaac’s answering machine from way back in the day. Also it has a couple non-album singles, which actually comprise about half the record.

In conclusion, Modest Mouse’s first record would’ve sounded like a bunch of precocious teenagers unsure of their way and not that talented yet, which is what they were. It sounds very Pavementy, with all sorts of melodic variation – from accordion-led weirdness to music noir creepiness and with a lot of less interesting stuff in between. Modest Mouse hadn’t figured out that they like sprawling songs yet, so while many of the songs are multi-part, the parts are all really short. Only two of the songs here crack that three minute barrier (and those just barely) while half the songs are less than a minute long, so the 23 odd songs get burned through in less than 35 minutes. Scary, really. The melodies are vaguely jazzy and the choruses pretty scratchy, but it’s all super scattered and unformed and lo-fi, and it was probably a good idea to wait until they had a reasonable fanbase to release it to.  “Dukes Up” is probably the only cohesively great song here.

Also, the last eight songs are just amusing thirty-second weebles from when Isaac was 18. Also, they sound a little emo on a couple songs! Hee! Well, the start of “Every Penny Fed Car” anyway. Also, the lyrics aren’t too exciting, except for “Think Long” going “Sit and think for a while and you’ll realize that you still die (da da da da da!) / If you’re not thinking at all I’m not sure why you’re alive!”

I am curious how a band of people so young comes out with this in an age of Nine Inch Nails and other crap, but I guess some people are just better than the rest of us (see previous review). Also, I am curious how the hell they went from a cute little record of cute little songs like this to a big long record of grown-up songs in two years. Magic Jew Spice, I bet.

6/10

Modest Mouse – Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks

Ah, the stopgap EP. The most venerable media for filler (less reputable ones being the Live album / EP, B-sides, and the LIMITED EDITION BONUS TRACKS), the stopgap EP is  the most likely to contain what fans of a band seek in a bunch of tracks deemed not good enough to release on an actual studio album: new songs. This is as opposed to live tracks or demos (or “live in studio” garbage like the bonus tracks on TMAA).

There are a few main forms of extra studio songs for the stopgap EP and other forms of filler: covers, instrumentals, “experimental” songs (some good, usually not), and normal songs omitted from their albums because they don’t “fit the mood,” are bad, or for no clear reason. It is this last subcategory that the stopgap EP obtainer seeks out, listening to bad outtakes in search of an elusive moment that not only is great, but few others have heard.
Modest Mouse are a good band, but more importantly for this EP, they are a band that seem to record more good songs that their albums have room for. This means that their stopgap EPs are more than contractual obligation; heckfire, they had a stopgap ALBUM and it was grape like Welches, so surely they have eight good songs lying around, yeah?
Well, mostly. Eight good songs is about as many as their album had. But since the album had a tendency to feature somewhat blah songs that sounded “spacey” and “angry,” this EP has more room for existential weirdness and sadness (and even a little happiness, with mixed results).

There are no covers – Modest Mouse seems to scorn them given their paucity of studio material – yay paucity! -, but there is one instrumental. Then there are three “experimental” songs, three normal-but-omitted songs, and one slightly extended album song.

The instrumental is nothing special – a (n albeit catchy) “dark” bassline that reminds me of Tool (and that’s never a good thing) and a bunch of swooshy space noises for almost five minutes, and “You’re the Good Things” is a horrifying attempt to sound happy with horrible lyrics (e.g. “You’re the icing on the cake / On the table at my wake”) and annoying draaaaawn out vowels and music that just follows that melody exactly, but the rest! Oooh the rest. “Night on the Sun” is a lengthy hopeless drawn out multi-part affair that sounds like a subdued early Modest Mouse, “Here it Comes” has a rollercoaster vocal melody and is all foreboding-like, and the edgy, slide-guitar-drenched “3 Inch Horses, Two Faced Monsters” is the bomb like tick tick.

Then there’s the melodramatically-titled “So Much Beauty in Dirt” – read these lyrics briefly, Jim:

Out of breath and out of cast
Find yourself watching M.A.S.H.
Every Night on the Couch
Woman says “let’s take a drive down south”
Roll down the windows and open our mouths
Taste where we are and play the music loud
Stop the car, lay on the grass
The planets spin and we watch space pass
Walk a direction, see where we get
I never knew nothing, so there’s nothing to forget
Get real drunk and ride our bikes
There’s so much beauty it could make you cry

Now imagine delivered all rapid-fire-like (and that’s the first verse). Do you feel somewhat inspired, or annoyed at the relentless optimism and immaturity? I go back and forth, but any song that’s genuinely affecting is good for me! Plus, it’s less than a minute and a half long.

Then there’s another song, and “I Came As A Rat” with an extra minute of jamming. Glee. I give it an eight!

Oh, and I hate Dove. The soap / beauty product maker has embarked on its latest asinine marketing campaign, which is a continuation of its existing, despicably dishonest plan of selling beauty products to people while calling them beautiful. It has all the honesty and pathos of Lindsay Lohan in a fur coat doing a spot for the Humane Society. Or Sarah Palin pardoning a turkey in front of a slaughterhouse, if you prefer.

Their newest ad starts off showing a brief series of images on a television; images of models, then the word “diet.” Then it zooms out to show a despondent seven year old girl on a couch in a darkened, David Lynch-esque living room, and the voiceover informs us to take on the beauty industry before it takes on our children. The last line, of course, informs us that “you help every time you buy Dove.”

If you recall, Dove were the people with their “real beauty” campaign recently, that featured plus-sized models in skimpy bathing suits. Never mind that that campaign indicts women who are not plus-sized as not being “really beautiful,” and never mind that obesity is a serious health problem in North America, and never mind that our excess creates deficits of food elsewhere in the world, even though I mind all of these things very much. My biggest problem with these little campaigns is that they promote the notion of nothing being exceptional, nothing being another more than anything else. If everyone is beautiful equally, then  nobody is because beauty, from Helen of Troy to Paris Hilton, is about exceptionalism and difference. If we level the playing field there is no game to play. It’s part of a grander scheme that endlessly decries “snobbiness” and opinions. If nobody is beautiful, how long is it before no music is beautiful and Larry the Cable Guy should be as respected as Mitch Hedberg? It’s the same populist pandering that gives people like Sarah Palin and Bill O’Reilly careers. Dove is encouraging us to be fat while reassuring us that it’s okay, we don’t have to FEEL fat. Seen that McLatte ad where two girls in a coffee shop joyfully throw down their books and announce that they don’t have to keep pretending to know where Paraguay is anymore? It’s the same thing, but replace stupidity with obesity. Do whatever you want, we’re on your side, and to hell with those big, bad, pretty people who make you feel ugly.

Here’s the truth about Dove and their campaigns: It’s a bait and switch. They’re lying to you. Firstly, Dove is owned by Unilever, which also owns Axe and Oglivy. Axe is a deodorant whose television ads are teenaged male fantasy camps relentlessly portraying women as sex toys. Oglivy, meanwhile, is the US distributor for Barbie dolls. Oops. Dove is not just cynical and manipulative, they are hypocritical. They sell beauty products for Christ’s sake. They are not a charity fund, and the last line of their commercial is probably the single most disingenuous thing I have ever heard in my almost twenty four years of life. Secondly, we are not all equally beautiful butterflies. If we were, this page would have no ratings and Pitchfork would be telling you to go buy Nickelback albums, and there wouldn’t be anything wrong with being, let’s say, homophobic, because hating gays is an equally valid opinion from an equally beautiful person, inside and out. Don’t listen to Dove. Stand up for what you believe in and don’t settle for smirking mediocrity. You’ll be making the world a better place.

8/10