Alternative/indie rock legends Modest Mouse have released their first album in 8 years. This is a band that has been around for nearly 20 years, and they had Johnny Marr of the Smiths fame as a member on the previous album, so imagine the pressure for a fantastic follow-up.
As a first time Modest Mouse listener who expected to be blown away by their perceived musicianship given their indie status, I am glad to say I was not disappointed.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way: the first song, the title track is a bit too downbeat a start. It has some lovely violins and chimes and some soft unobtrusive vocals atop a simple drumbeat, but the problem with it is that the song leaves you hoping like the upcoming songs won’t have the same slow, constantly dreary vibe.
And your hopes will not be dashed.
The next track ‘Lampshades on Fire’ bursts through with a groovy, jaunty and even funky vibe. To borrow the words of vocalist and lyricist Isaac Brock: ‘This is what I call a party now’. And not just any old party: a damn good, rocky folk and funk flavoured party with tasty guitar textures, a party that you never want to end.
It’s a good thing it does end though; otherwise you’d never get to the exotically flavoured, immediately acerbic-lyric’d ‘Shit In Your Cut’. As for the lyrics, they appear to be concerned with a character that feels like he’s better off alone, conveyed by Brock’s vocals, which are more pained here than in the fun of ‘Lampshades’ or the dreariness of the title track. This song has great character, and you feel it through the wintry attitude and tone of the lyrics: ‘Hey, please won't you just come on in / Won't you please just go away’. By this point, not only are you in no doubt that Modest Mouse know how to make colourful songs (the guitars call R.E.M. to mind, if only just); you also know that Isaac Brock is an incredibly poetic lyricist who knows how to shape his words as well as his voices to create pieces of art that are like film vignettes as well as songs.
The Daft-Punk-esque dance-punk of the next track ‘Pistol’ is another highlight: the lyrics appear to parody banal mafioso rap in a way that recalls The Lonely Island. This song is so, so entertaining, but without being didactic or condescending. It’s just some good fun.
The fun goes on: ‘Ansel’ continues the masterful, cerebral storytelling. ‘Coyotes’ does too with a switched-up indie folk vibe. ‘Sugar Boats’ directly recalls vaudeville music and even hint at a Jack White influence.
I would recommend ‘The Ground Walks…’, whose intensity, dance-ability and impeccable structure cause you to question whether this is just a rock band or something bigger and better; the stadium-rock imitating ‘Wicked Campaign’ which has the cleverest use of guitars on the album with some lovely, gentle wobbles and stutters; and the closer ‘Of Course We Know’, the slowest but most atmospheric and lyrically interesting song on the album (opener: ‘The streets are just blankets and we sleep on their silky corpse’). When a piano and some of the loveliest vocals close the album, you’ll be sorry it ever finished.
All that’s left to say is that if you want an intensely consistent, 100% serious, immediately and obviously profound rock album, then this might not be the one for you. As for me I’m convinced by its fun experimentation and surprisingly overarching pop appeal that I would want to hear it again and again.