With a little more than twenty years under their belt, Modest Mouse have been around longer than a lot of their contemporaries. However, they took an absence from their last album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. What took place was not as much touring, but playing many more festivals, original bassist Eric Judy leaving during album creation, a number of changes in direction and production, and the root cause of such a delay being lead vocalist and songwriter Isaac Brock’s own self critical and wish to make an album that isn’t half baked to his fans.
It took eight years, and Modest Mouse has returned with a different direction in Strangers to Ourselves, with an album that still stands above any comparisons to other bands. In today’s alt / indie rock environment, where there is no clear definitions to one or the other as far as what indie music really is anymore (but that’s a separate discussion), many bands can simply blur into one and another. The only band Modest Mouse has to really compete with in this regard is themselves.
And in those respects, this is still a Modest Mouse album. “Lampshades on Fire” introduced fans as the first single, and it is the same general sound: Brock’s barks over melodic additions and frenzied guitars. Since being signed to a major label, production has become very sleek and it is a polished product; many of the songs sound as though they may have been played a few hundred times until perfection.
As five of the songs have dropped over the weeks leading up to the release of Strangers, many fans may already be familiar with some of the album. Taken in context of the album, they sound a lot better; maybe it is because I’ve been listening to this release repeatedly, but it quite easily has become one of the best albums of the year to me. In its entirety, there is a clear message, mankind’s foolish destruction of earth and all the cynicism and hypocrisy associated with it. “Coyotes” and “The Best Room” both place stark depictions of humanity’s “necessities”, where in the latter it is given examples, “Oh, these Western concerns / Hold my place in line while I get your turn”.
These themes cycle throughout the album, with the occasional sidetrack. One of the strangest Modest Mouse songs appears in “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, Fl. 1996)” entailing the life of the serial killer, Andrew Cunanan with a very hard sharp drum beat and creepy manipulated vocals. “Ansel” is a moving reflection on the death of Brock’s brother, even though Ansel is not his brother’s name. Brock never writes autobiography, and thus this is the closest he has come to it, recording the harsh reality of never knowing when the last name may be one sees a loved one alive.
This is a very generous album, with a lot of direction to get lost in. Brock has said in recent interviews he plans to have the next Modest Mouse album come out as soon as legally possible, acting as a companion to this release.
Whatever the case, this is a very good album, the only real complaint being the opener which does well to set the mood but drags a little too long. There are many approaches that were used throughout , some better employed than others.
It’s good to hear Modest Mouse strike back, and eights years or not, it’s great to hear they still have a heart beat.
Anthony Campbell // Staff Writer