Saturday, March 17, 2007

Modest Mouse Doesn't Sink

I realize that when I attempt to review a Modest Mouse record that I'm biased. A Long Way to Drive... pulled me out of the depths of one of the saddest moments of my life. I've also felt that this was a band I was with from almost the beginning. From catching them by chance in Bernie's about ten-and-a-half years ago to heckling them on my bachelor party night two summers ago, I have felt a sincere connection to Isaac Brocks's music and will probably always will.

Anyway, their latest, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, comes out on Tuesday. I happened to check their MySpace page only to discover the tracks from this release. With only one listen, I'd say the band is moving in the right direction. I'm a purist, but I'm also realistic about Modest Mouse never returning to those early days in the mid-to-late-90's.

The opening track, "Marching into the Sea", makes me wonder if Brock is listening to as much gypsy music as everyone else who reads Pitchfork. The Beirut-esque intro includes some typewriting and menacing strings one of the more dramatic Modest Mouse tracks ever. This might stay on my MySpace profile for a while.

The single "Dashboard" follows with its hyper-disco beat and oriental strings follow. This single is way more advanced compared to the last record's singles. It definitely makes me want to dance more than any MM song ever did.

"Fire it Up" begins interesting enough with some unique guitar tunings and a Modest Mouse drone before Brock hollers, "Fire it up! Fire it up!" It has a "Trailer Trash" feel to it with its dreamy date-movie lyrical feel. In fact, I'm sure it will end up backing the climax of this summer's date movie du jour.

A frenetic guitar and Brock howl begins "Florida". The chorus gives the song a very eighties , college rock sound. The entire song is all over the place stylistically. It might be the throw away of the record, which isn't a bad thing when the song is this well-produced.

"Parting of the Sensory" starts as if it's right off the Ugly Casanova LP, distorted vocals, acoustic guitar, sparse backing vocals, hand claps, the works. Brock's anger comes out as the song goes and you hear him yelping in the background. You can always count on Modest Mouse to put together a pretty song that romps with anger. Violins and some Marr licks eventually lead the track into oblivion and a Brock holler session.

As in true Modest Mouse fashion, Brock nods to past work by referring to past themes and production ideas in "Missed the Boat". This track feels as if it was left off the radio-friendly Good News for People Who Love Bad News but with guitar parts provided by new member Johnny Marr. The interesting piece is the very conventional chorus leading up to some classic guitar string bending by Brock. No matter how poppy his music gets, it still doesn't sound like anything else on the radio.

"We've Got Everything" speculates that we, the human race I assume, have owned, done, thought of, said, destroyed, etc. everything. It's somewhat repetitive, but has a dance-able beat as it over-exaggerates mankind's greatness. I do like songs that make you dance to the Apocalypse.

A fly buzzes around as does the guitar intro for "Fly Trapped in a Jar". Brock's schizophrenic lyrics and vocal styling take over for a track that I'm convinced will be a live favorite. Brock repeats how "One wing wasn't even enough" as he observes a handicapped fly struggling to get away. This all before the song seems to become something else entirely. This is the dirty mouse I've missed over the last two records. It was hinted at during the Ugly Casanova days, but never really realized on the major label crap.

"Education" is the most Tom Waits-y track on this LP. It seems that Brock slips his nods to Waits ever since the Ugly Casanova project...but this time it's accompnaied by Marr's guitar. The song's not my favorite, but it's amusing. I won't hit skip.

"Little Motel" starts as if it's a Postal Service track with its simple computer beeps, but a whispery Brock comes through with as lovely a love song as he's written since "All-Night Diner". Where so many of his latest work has been filled with almost too much instrumentation, this track takes the Mouse back to simpler times. It reminds of all the great Mouse records that were perfect for night drives through the country with the windows down. They guitar work (via crappy Japanese knock-offs) reminds me of those long-gone days of Brock's early work.

The cleverly titled "Steam Engenious" is this weird blues track that could've only come from Brock's bizarre alternate universe. Modest Mouse's new adventures in the many avenues of pop music while riding on a car with oval wheels becomes very clear in this strange romp.

"Spitting Venom" begins simply and sparsely with Brock and an acoustic guitar. You can't help but look for the best spot on your floor to tap your foot. Then, there are inklings of electric guitar in the background before the real rocker heart of the track is revealed. This song reminds me of The Lonesome Crowded West-era Mouse more so than anything they've done on Epic/Sony. The distorted voice warbling out the back end of the song rocks until it returns to its basic beginning with an organ/trumpet outro and extended, mumbling jam.

Sonic Youth-like noodling begins "People as Places as" before Brock's signature ramblings and guitar work take over. This is a song that is a perfect example of that old Modest Mouse guitar work returning to their work. Besides that, Brock actually barks just before the bridge.

"Invisible" begins with a rolling snare drum before breaking into a fast-paced romp. "You're not invisible inside your car," Brock rambles making little sense. The track is a pretty conventional rock song with some strange effects on Brocks voice. This will undoubtedly get a crowd into a frenzy, not because it'll be a crowd favorite but more because it rocks fast and hard.

I like the direction Modest Mouse is moving. Isaac Brock is really expanding the band's signature sound as well as developing some of the ideas he's picked up over the years. Too often indie artists scrap what's worked for them and start anew, especially after a couple of major label releases. But this record displays all of Modest Mouse's journeys from their humble beginnings in dive bars to the lofty heights of MTV(2). They will always be one of my favorite bands and they did not disappoint with this new album. I can't wait till Tuesday!