Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pre/review: Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse comes to town tomorrow for what must be a rare club show. I remember when the band made to jump from bars to clubs like the Blue Note. Now, they're huge Billboard-topping behemoths that can charge $34 for said club show.

I could write all kinds of things about this band. I could write about Isaac Brock hitchhiking across the country and recording his songs on answering machines. I could write about the controversy over the band "selling-out" when they signed with Epic. Or I could write about the contradic
tion of a feminist supporting a band whose front man has been accused of rape, but I won't. I love the band for their music and what it's meant to me over the years. So, that is what I'll write about.

In 1996, Modest Mouse released This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Talk About. I have distributed and shared more dubs of this album than any other. Something about it spoke to me from its cold imagery to its bizarre lisped-barking and guitar squeals to disillusionment with our existence. Many of Modest Mouse's running themes of drowning in the ocean, being overwhelmed by suburban sprawl, and deities as flawed beings began to sprout up throughout the record's 74 minutes of indie rock atmospherics. Officially, it wasn't their first release, but it was their introduction to most of the indie community.

Later, the same year, the band released an EP called Interstate 8. This fast and furious EP proved that Modest Mouse could make you dance. It perfectly complimented the gloom and doom of Long Drive with the humor and teen-age seduction of "All Night Diner" or fifties nostalgia of "Sleepwalking..." plus there were hints of the band's frenetic live shows found in the demo extras hidden at the end.

These two releases, along with 1997's The Fruit that Ate Itself were my soundtrack for what was a depressingly awful year. Fruit was an interesting release that displayed the band's sound in an almost hi-fi arena absent from the previous releases. In addition to the slick production, Brock experimented with the sound boards and mixing machines to show some appreciation for hip-hop sounds and culture. I remember this disc being the perfect soundtrack for a stroll on the beach in the San Juan Islands.

By the fall of '97, Modest Mouse released their second proper, The Lonesome Crowded West. The album's title was one of many that elu
ded to the all-consuming feeling of isolation in an overcrowded world prevalent in Mouse records. It begins with one the most rocking songs ever in "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine" before twisting and turning down roads from Alaska to Florida. It, like most of the early Mouse releases, was a perfect road trip record.

In between these albums and EP's were some ingenious singles that have never received their due. I'm amazed that I even own any of these on 7" they're so rarely talked about. I happened to stumble upon the "Broke" single one day at Used Kids and glad I did. This track (along with b-side "Whenever You Breath Out...") is one of my most prized vinyl-pressed possessions. Then, there's the "Life of Arctic Sounds"/"Medication" single put out on Suicide Squeeze. It's not the most polished Modest Mouse recording, but it hinted at the naivete that is so present in Brock's very early work. I actually love "Birds vs. Worms" with its blue vinyl and translucent, rice-paper sleeve even though drummer Jeremiah Green thought it to be a piece of crap in a pretty package. I may have been swayed by the sleeve, but I'm ok with that.

1998 was a long year without any major releases outside of a few singles "Other People's Lives"/"Gray Ice Water" and "Never Ending Math Equation"/"Workin' on Leavin' the Livin'" were great leftovers from the band's most productive period. They, like many of the singles and rarities, found their way onto 2000's compilation disc, Building Something Out of Nothing.

The highlight of the '98 releases was the collaborative effort with 764-HERO (and some DJ's) in the epic "Whenever You See Fit". I remember seeing both bands perform the song and my brother's roommate, Adam, turning to me to say, "That song has to be on the f---ing album!" It wasn't, but it didn't need to be. Both bands seemed to play completely different songs as they crowded the tiny stage but would always return to the same crescendo that left us speechless...except Adam and I just told you what he said.

The vinyl-only release (in the US) for "Night on the Sun" arrived through the mail sometime in '99 or '00. It was a clue as to the highly-produced and uber-conceptual nature of the band's future releases, but it left me wanting more, especially after the previously mentioned Building... compilation.

The same year that Modest Mouse released their collection of indie singles, they made the jump to the majors with The Moon and Antarctica. This was a confounding rock record that felt conventional and radio-ready, but that never happened. One almost got the sense that Brock tried really hard to get people to embrace this album. They even re-released it with some Peel sessions and new artwork. The band has insisted on playing many of the tracks from this under-appreciated album.

The next year saw Everything and His Nasty Parlor Tricks extend the Moon's gaze but was
mostly highlighted by the songs from "Night on the Sun", making me feel as if I had wasted my money on the vinyl.

After what seemed like an eternity in mouse years, 2004's summer top-40 hit Good News for People Who Love Bad News changed Modest Mouse forever. This year's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank has continued the band's mega-success.

Although I knew of the band when...I still support and listen to Modest Mouse's current work. I know that Modest Mouse is a fixture on mainstream radio, but at least they don't sound like anything else on AM, FM, or even XM.

So, with this all in-mind, I will head out to the Note to see Modest Mouse one more time. I'm not expecting it to be as memorable as the time I saw them in a basement venue that served bagels and beer or a bar in Cincinnati that also offered laundry services or the famed Crocodile Cafe. In fact, it will probably suck as kids who were in elementary school when Long Drive was released and have never heard of Up Records are singing along to "Float On" (or that none of them know who guitarist Johnny Marr used to play for), but I really don't care. I'll go, rock out, and remember why I love Modest Mouse.

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