Saturday, December 6, 2014

My first brand new car


I've been driving cars for 34 years, but before today I had never owned one that was brand new. The nearest I ever came to owning a new car was in the early 80s when I bought a 3-year-old Ford Capri to replace the Ford Escort my grandfather had given me (affectionately known as the banana due to the hideous yellow color).

Growing up in England conditioned me to believing that new cars were a terrible waste of money. That was partly due to the cost of living and also because of the reliability factor. Moving to Canada has meant that prices are much more reasonable, and technology has improved vastly over the past three decades.

When I arrived in Canada in 2005 with a quarter of a million dollars in my account, my ingrained instincts about cars never left me. I paid $3,750 for a 1999 Ford Taurus and have driven it over the past 10 years. As you can see, I have been loyal to Ford up until now. My last English car was a Ford Mondeo.

Something in the back of my mind prompted me to consider a new car, and I have been researching the possibilities for about a month. I'm not sure whether I was ready to ditch the Taurus, or drive it into the ground, but recent events made my decision for me. Last Wednesday, it overheated on the way home. I hoped that I had just been careless and had allowed the coolant level to drop, but it was more serious than that. I checked with my local garage and they informed me that a couple of steel hoses would have to be replaced. With the labor costs factored in, I was looking at a $400 repair bill.

I was lucky enough to get a ride to and from work the following day from two friends that I work with, but I knew the time had come to do something drastic. If you have ever been without a car for even a day, you'll probably understand how the loss affects your independence. Even simple tasks such as shopping become more annoying because you have to get your purchases home. The price of my weekly pizza would rise $6 because I wouldn't be able to make the 2-minute drive to pick it up.

After explaining the situation to my bosses at work, it was agreed that I could take Friday as an unplanned vacation day to test drive cars.

I mentioned that I had been researching for a while, so I already had my choices down to a Volkswagen Jetta, Toyota Corolla, or a Honda Civic. However, the mechanic who gave me the bad news about my Taurus made me consider another option. He has always been loyal to Honda, but after working on all kinds of cars over the years, his family will be buying a Hyundai the next time they change vehicles. The reason being that he believes they are built just as well as the more popular cars such as Honda and Toyota, but at a much more reasonable price. I added Hyundai to my final shortlist. Thursday night's research looked promising, so I called my local Hyundai dealer in Whitby.


The phone was answered by Phil McLean and I explained that I would like to test drive the Accent and Elantra as soon as possible. The hope was that it could be arranged for the following day in order to take full advantage of my day off, beat the weekend rush, and perhaps get a new car by the middle of the following week if I liked either of my choices. I was expecting to take two buses to the dealership, but Phil arranged to collect me from home at 9:30 the following morning and bring me home after the test drives. I was certainly not expecting anything like that.

So I met Phil Friday morning and he talked to me about what I was looking for. The Accent was ready and waiting and he told me to take my time and drive around as long as I wanted. Apart from the necessity of replacing my Taurus, the reason I had already been looking at options might sound rather childish; the Taurus was equipped with a cassette deck. While that might have been relevant 15 years ago, it had become extremely inconvenient in recent years. Try buying your favorite music on tape these days and see how far you get. I own all of my favorite music on CD and have about 1,500, so I bought a cheap boom box to record my favorites onto tape so that I had a better choice while driving.

You should understand that music is a massive passion of mine. If you have read any of the concert reviews or my Modest Mouse series on this site, you might begin to understand that this is an important thing to me. The lure of being able to plug in a USB and have access to 200 of my favorite albums was particularly strong. It was part of my decision-making process during the search. Ideally, I wanted the ability to play music from a USB as a standard feature. I told you my reasoning might sound childish.

The Accent was better than I had hoped for. After selecting Modest Mouse's The Lonesome Crowded West from the USB stick I bought with me, I began the test drive. After driving 10 yards I learned that the brakes on a new car were significantly more efficient than those on my Taurus. It took me a while to adjust, but the car was already starting to feel familiar by the time I got onto the highway. The acceleration was effortless and I noticed how quiet the car was compared the one I had driven for 10 years. Within a few minutes, I knew that there was no point in driving the Elantra. The 138-horsepower Accent had everything I needed and quite a few things I didn't need. I'm one of the few people on the planet without a cell phone, so the Bluetooth technology won't be fully utilized unless I decide to get one.

During the drive to the dealership, I was open to the idea of buying a manual car without air conditioning, if it would save me $4,000-$5,000. By the time I drove the Accent GL, I knew that I wanted automatic transmission and air conditioning. If I was going to make the unlikely decision to spend a fortune on a new car, I didn't want to regret not having certain features a few months from now. So the only thing left to do was negotiate the price and see how good my credit was.

One great thing about Hyundai is the financing terms. On a 2014 Accent, you can finance over 84 months at 0%. On the 2015 version, the 0% offer drops to 72 months, but that's excellent when compared to competitors who typically won't offer 0% beyond 48 months. As you might expect, I felt the need to haggle at least a little bit because of the large nature of the purchase. The ultimate resolution involved my Taurus, and $700 was removed from the cost of the Accent. The biggest challenge would be getting it there without vanishing in clouds of steam as it overheated.

I should say at this point that I don't generally like salespeople. They are often aggressive and fail to listen properly. I really hate the forced laughter which is so obviously fake. The majority of salespeople insult my intelligence by trying to force me to buy things I don't need at a price I am not willing to pay.

Phil McLean is not one of those people.

He was friendly, attentive, and came across as sincere and passionate about what he was selling. I understand that it's a business and that a salesperson's job is to make you spend more than you planned on things you might not have considered. Phil patiently answered all of my questions and presented the true cost of the features I asked about. Everything was completely transparent and he gave me the impression that he valued my business and respected my intelligence and my right to negotiate.

After four hours, my decision was made and my financing secured at the promised 0%. Phil arranged for me to be driven home and even dropped off some paperwork that evening on his way home. My ailing Taurus limped to the dealership Saturday morning and the car was ready for me just 24 hours after I signed the agreement. My independence and peace of mind are assured for the foreseeable future.

Buying a car is a serious decision and can cause a lot of stress. However, my experience was nothing like that. Hyundai Whitby understands that a few low-cost courtesies can make all the difference. A few cups of coffee and a shuttle to and from the dealership helped put me in the right frame of mind, but that was just the beginning. For me to even consider spending more than $20,000 on something that I had always considered a waste of money, Phil had to have the right approach. He made me feel valued the whole time and even sealed the deal as I picked up the car by giving me a golf umbrella and attaching the plates from my old Taurus. The picture at the top of this post was the ultimate finishing touch. I'll never forget the day I drove home my first new car. It still has less than 20km on the clock.

I know that my first call will be to Hyundai if I ever decided to change cars again. Not only that, the treatment I received from Phil, Dan and Alan will not be soon forgotten. If you live in the Durham area and have any interest in a Hyundai, it's well worth a visit. At least check out the vehicles in your price range and compare it to the others on your shortlist. You might be pleasantly surprised to see the features that come as standard.

If you do visit the Whitby dealership, feel free to call Phil and mention my name. He'll give you $20 for calling ahead if you are interested in a new vehicle. I'm not a salesman or an expert, but I would say that it's worth your time if you are serious about buying. Here's his card:


When watching a great movie, I usually don't mind being manipulated if the outcome is to my liking. My car-buying experience gave me a similar feeling. Now all I have to do is agonize over the various albums and playlists to include on my USB, and read the manual so I can figure out how all the controls work. Turning on the headlights will be my first challenge.

I've just made the biggest purchase of my life, with the exception of my house. Right now, I feel pretty good about it. Thanks for reading.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Inspired by Hemingway


For some reason, I'm thinking about something I wrote in school a few years ago. We were asked to read Hemingway's A Clean Well-Lighted Place and I decided to continue the story.

This is why I don't write for a living?





Sergio walked home slowly, listening to the crunch of the fallen leaves as they crumbled under his shoes. He had trouble distinguishing one sound from another, but he could hear perfectly well when it was quiet. He found that it was better to pretend he was deaf so that people wouldn’t engage him in unwanted conversation. Besides, he couldn’t risk talking to the waiters in case his secret slipped out.

A small animal scurried across his path, anxious to stay in the shadows and out of his way. He opened his gate and fumbled the latch as he tried to close it behind him. After concentrating for a moment, he managed to carefully close it. As he walked toward the house, he left a trail of footprints in the heavy dew; each one offering proof of his existence, and measuring the burden that he carried every moment of his life.

He could see the outline of Anna’s head in the flickering light of the lamp as he opened the door. She was up late tonight, he thought. Leo lifted his shaggy head at the sound of the opening door; wandering up to the old man, sniffing his hand and licking it. Sergio stroked Leo’s
head absently. Satisfied, the dog curled up at the woman’s feet and closed his eyes again.

“You’re early,” Anna said, turning her head toward him with a welcoming smile.

“They seemed eager to close up tonight.”

“How was he?”

“I got the impression that he wanted to tell me something.”

“You should think with your head, not with your heart.”

He sat down beside her and cradled her head in his arms. He could smell her familiar scent and feel her warmth as he matched the rhythm of her slow breathing.

“They think you are my niece, not my wife.”

“Well I am twenty years younger than you, and you didn’t invite anyone to the wedding.”

“Yes, but you are wiser than I’ll ever be.”

Anna smiled, nestling her head against Sergio’s bony chest. It was the only place that felt like home to her. How she wished that she could ease his pain.

“They think that I tried to kill myself.”

“As if you would ever choose to leave me,” she smiled again.

“I wish that I could tell him.”

“You can – he would forgive you – you didn’t have a choice.”

“I lost that right when I gave him up for adoption.”

“You were poor and you needed all of your time and what little money you had to care for Elizabeth.”

“No Anna, I don’t have the right.”

She sighed, wondering how many times they had discussed this topic, and how many times they would return to it. She knew that she could never accept the situation. He had to tell his son the truth eventually. Every night, he went to watch Carlos working in the café. The drink helped him dull some of the pain. She knew that he wanted to tell him, and that he didn’t know how. He’s almost 80, she thought, it has to be soon or he won’t have the chance.

*   *   *                                                                                               

Carlos walked home from the bar, humming softly to himself. He was thinking how he understood why the old man liked to sit in the shadows, but close to the light. It was as if he wanted to be near people without being noticed. Carlos knew that he liked that same feeling, although he wasn’t sure why. Maybe he was just getting old? He reached the house and went through the gate, carefully closing it behind him, wondering why he did that when there was nobody in the house to wake. He shrugged and opened the door. The light from the streetlamp leaked into the dark room, casting his elongated shadow onto the wall. He heard a scampering sound from within and felt a wet nose nuzzle his hand.

“Hello Aries, did you miss me?”

Carlos closed the door on another day and made his way to bed.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting (1997)
Drama, 126 minutes
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Starring Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgård, Ben Affleck and Minnie Driver

It's been a while since I watched Robin Williams act, and Good Will Hunting is the first time I have seen one of his performances since he died. Although I am a fan of his comedy, I much prefer his serious roles. Movies such as Dead Poets Society, One Hour Photo and Insomnia proved that Williams was more than a comedian. In Good Morning Vietnam, he was able to blend comedy with drama to good effect. It's fair to say that Good Will Hunting would be far less effective without Williams in one of his two best performances (Dead Poets Society).

The story consists of several important elements that are present in all or most of our lives, and one that is far less common:

Will Hunting (Damon) is a genius, but he spends his life hanging out with his buddies from Southie. To him, friendship is far more important than his potential. He works in construction, spends his free time in bars, and isn't afraid to pick fights without any real reason to do so. He's the central character in the film, as you might suspect after reading the title. As the story unfolds, we learn more about his past, his motivations, and his possible future.


Ben Affleck is convincing as Hunting's most loyal friend, and it's obviously a friendship that exists outside the confines of the movie.

Gerald Lambeau is a professor at MIT, and recognizes that Hunting has an exceptional mind, even though he's a janitor and not a student at the institution. Lambeau tries to get Hunting psychological help, while developing and exploiting his genius as a mathematician.

The final key element is romance. Hunting spots Skylar at a bar and manages to win her attention. His upbringing makes him a difficult romantic partner, but I won't ruin the story for you.


As I sat watching the movie, I found that I connected with it on several levels. The writing is superb, and thoroughly deserved the Oscar for best screenplay. The interactions between these very real characters was authentic and easy to imagine. Everything just fits together perfectly. I was reminded why drama is my favorite genre by far. This story is about something important. While few of us understand true genius, we can certainly identify with the problems and obstacles that life throws at us from time to time.

Imagine that you have a similar level of intelligence to that of Will Hunting. Perhaps you do? What would you choose to do with it? Is money your definition of success? If so, you would have numerous paths to pursue to reach that rather easy goal. Would you prefer to make a real difference in the world in your chosen field? Would you take a step back and figure out what truly makes you happy, even if it meant that your genius would be rarely utilized? Would you give it all up for the right romantic partner?


I like movies that reach me emotionally and make me think, and Good Will Hunting does all that and more. The script is insightful when you consider that it was written by two men in their mid-20s. Williams gives a memorable performance and Damon is right up there with him. Minnie Driver is believable as the interesting romantic interest, and the story is well-paced and intelligent. Good Will Hunting will appeal to anyone who enjoys drama, the psychological reasons that drive our choices, and human behavior in general.

Overall score 4.5/5

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

The lonesome crowded quest - ranking the Top 5


It's been a long journey, filled with torment and agony, but I'm finally ready to rank my favorite five songs by Modest Mouse. The five in question come from three albums and one EP. It's taken a week of effort to get to this point, and I have to wonder how much the order would change if I repeated this exercise six months down the line.

I don't know whether anyone out there has followed this project from start to finish, but thanks for sticking with me if you have. Even if you violently disagree with my assessment, I hope that you appreciate the effort that went into the decisions. If you're still reading, I'm sure that you're a huge fan, as I am.

I've known for a couple of days three of the songs that would make my final five, but the other two were in doubt right up until I completed the previous installment in this futile series. If you're keeping track, you'll know which five songs are still under consideration. If not, I'll keep you in suspense a little longer by ranking them in reverse order. As always, I'll include a video link and the lyrics.


5. 3rd Planet - from The Moon & Antarctica


Everything that keeps me together is falling apart
I've got this thing that I consider my only art of fucking people over
My boss just quit the job says
He's goin' out to find blind spots and he'll do it

The third planet is sure that they're being watched
By an eye in the sky that can't be stopped
When you get to the promise land
Your gonna shake that eye's hand

Your heart felt good it was drippin' pitch and made of wood
And your hands and knees felt cold and wet on the grass to me
Outside naked, shiverin' looking blue
From the cold sunlight that's reflected off the moon
Baby cum angels fly around you, reminding you
We used to be three and not just two

And that's how the world began
And that's how the world will end

A third had just been made and we were swimming in the water
Didn't know, then was it a son was it a daughter
When it occurred to me that the animals are swimming
Around in the water in the oceans, in our bodies
And another had been found, another ocean on the planet
Given that our blood is just like the Atlantic
And how

The universe is shaped exactly like the earth
If you go straight long enough, you'll end up where you were

3rd Planet works well as the opening track on The Moon & Antarctica. It sets the scene and asks questions about existence, our origins, and the meaning of life. I've mentioned several times that the songs on that album have the best overall flow of any Modest Mouse album. It feels wrong to split them up, but this one deserves a place in my Top 5. It's quiet and introspective for the most part, but the lyrics are among the best that Brock has ever written.


4. Exit Does Not Exist - from This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About


Does not exist, take an exit
Does not exist, take an exit

I hear voices insinuatin'
Feeds me lyrics to this  song that I am sayin'

Sunlight 7:20 PM, early September
Standin' lookin' at a photograph
That you do not remember bein' taken
You look out of breath and me like I am fakin'

As a matter of fact
I don't recall this photo being taken
You don't even actually exist
So I just started shakin'

Does not exist, take an exit
Does not exist, take an exit

This last entry from the band's debut is full of raw excitement. Jeremiah Green's drumming opens the track and is a vital component for the duration of the song. The vocals are right on the edge and almost unnerving, and everything blends with the desperation of the guitar. I imagine a lot of adrenaline flowing for both the band and the audience when this song is played live. It does allow us room to breathe around the halfway mark, but then it finishes with a flourish. I'm excited every time I hear this song. The swirling guitar provides the perfect ending as Green continues to go crazy on the drums.


3. The Whale Song - from No One's First and You're Next


I guess I am a scout
So I should find a way out
So everyone can find a way out

They keep us in
To pull us out
I'm rising up
Wish I was sinking down
And it's not like
There was warning
We were happy
And it's not like
There was mourning
In the warning

I know I am a scout
I should've found a way out
So everyone can find a way out

I know I am a scout
I should've found a way out
So everyone can find a way out

Instead of seeing a neighbor out
God, I wish I would've found a way out
It's the last time
We were happy
Ever happy

I know I was a scout
I should've found a way out
So everyone could find a way out

Well I know I was a scout
I should've found a way out
So everyone could find a way out

Well I know I was a scout
I should've found a way out
So everyone could find a way out

Every time I hear the opening bass line of The Whale Song, I start to grin. When I first discovered it, I had to hear it at least three times a day or life wasn't worth living. The structure of the song is exactly right. It gradually builds and hits us with the lyrics halfway through. It seems to be about the band's success, and how they moved away from a small label and humble beginnings, to a situation which wasn't entirely comfortable. The second half of the song is more intense than the first, and provides an almost orgasmic release as it reaches its conclusion. There is no other Modest Mouse song that indulges the guitars quite like this one.


2. Doin' the Cockroach - from The Lonesome Crowded West


I was in heaven, I was in hell
Believe in neither, but fear them as well

This one's a doctor
This one's a lawyer
This one's a cash fiend
Takin' your money

Back of the metro
Ride on the greyhound
Drunk on the Amtrak
Please, shut up

Another rider, he was a talker
Talkin' 'bout TV
Please, shut up

This one's a crazer, daydreamin' disaster
The origin of junk food, ruttin' through garbage
Tasty but worthless, dogs eat their own shit
We're doin' the cockroach, yeah

Doin' the cockroach, yeah
Doin' the cockroach, yeah, yeah
Alright, not bad

Doin' the cockroach, yeah
Doin' the cockroach, yeah, yeah
Alright, not bad

Doin' the cockroach, yeah
Doin' the cockroach, yeah, yeah
Alright, not bad not bad

One year, twenty years, forty years, fifty years
Down the road in your life
You'll look in the mirror
And say, "My parents are still alive"

You move your mouth, you shake your tongue
You vibrate my eardrums
You're saying words
But you know I ain't listenin'

You're walking down the street
Your face, your lips, your hips
Your eyes, they meet
You're not hungry though

Well, late last winter down below the equator
They had a summer that would make you blister
Oh, my mind is all made up
So I'll have to be comin'

Well, late last winter down below the equator
They had a summer that would make you blister
Oh, my mind is all made up
So I'll have to sleep in it

Well, late last winter down below the equator
They had a summer that would make you blister
And oh, my mind is all, oh my mind is all
Oh, my mind is all made up
So I'll have to sleep in it

When I started this project, I knew that Doin' the Cockroach had strong claims to be my overall number one. As things turned out, it's just a hair behind in second place. The biggest reason that I like it is the music. It rocks, it flows, it spirals, it goes off at weird tangents, but it all makes perfect sense. I often drive along shouting 'not bad not bad' or 'please shut up' while it is playing, and then realize that I must look like an idiot. Who cares? Cockroach is such an enthusiastic rant that it's almost impossible to dislike the bouncy rhythm and all out exuberance. How the hell is there a Modest Mouse song better than this? I'm really not sure.


1. Teeth Like God's Shoeshine - from The Lonesome Crowded West


From the top of the ocean - Yeah
To the bottom of the sky - Goddamn
Well, I get claustrophobic
I can, you know that I can, well

From the top of the ocean - Yeah
To the bottom of the sky - Goddamn
Well I get claustrophobic
I can, you know that I can

And he said...
"I am not allowed much danger
Keep in line you're an old friend stranger
You'll burn me in effigy, and I'll burn you in effigy"

Well, a rattlesnake up in Buffalo, Montana
He bit the leg of the old sheriff
Ha! That boy fell down on his harelip Ow! Ow!
Well I, I might be wrong
But you, you tag along
And we, we all been wronged
And I get dizzier by the mile
Said hell ya! The money's spent
Went to the county line
And paid the rent I said, "Uh-oh"
I said "Uh-oh"

Oh! If you could compact your conscience
Oh! And you might...
Oh! If you could bottle and sell it you might have done
Oh! And you might...
Oh! If you could compact your conscience
And sell it save it for another time
You know you might have to use it

And the television's on
Go to the grocery store, buy some new friends,
And find out the beginning, the end, and the best of it
Well, do you need a lot of what you've got to survive?

Here's the man with teeth like God's shoeshine
He sparkles, shimmers, shines
Let's all have another Orange Julius
Thick syrup standing in lines
The malls are the soon to be ghost towns
Well so long, farewell, good-bye

Take 'em all for the long ride
And you'll go around town
No one wants to be uptight anymore
You can be ashamed
Or be so proud of what you've done
But not no one, not now, not ever or anyone
Take 'em all for the sense of happiness
That comes from hurting deep down inside

Or you can add it up and give a shit, give a shit
Go to the family doctor it's all worth it, all worth it
And it's all wrong, and its all gone
Or, you can add it up and give a shit, give a shit
I'm on the corner of this and this and this and this
All wrong, and it's all, all wrong

Here's the man with teeth like God's shoeshine
He sparkles, shimmers, shines
Let's all have another Orange Julius
Thick syrup standing in lines
The malls are the soon to be ghost towns
well so long, farewell, good-bye

And the telephone goes off
Pick the receiver up, try to meet ends
And find out the beginning, the end and the best of it

OH MY GODDAMN

Take 'em all for the long ride
And you'll go around town
No one wants to be uptight anymore
You can be ashamed
Or be so proud of what you've done
But not no one, not now, not ever or anyone

So, there you have it. Teeth Like God's Shoeshine is officially my favorite song by Modest Mouse. It was a close call, and on another day it could all be different. I like it because it's full of energy, and contains almost everything that I like about the band in just one song. It has great lyrics, fantastic flow, multiple layers, and showcases Brock's vocal range. The song is relentless and assaults you with information. It's quite a ride.

Here's a recap of the entire series

Songs 40 through 59 in alphabetical order:

Alone Down There
Breakthrough
Bukowski
Dashboard
Education
Florida
Lives
Lounge  
March Into the Sea
Might
Missed the Boat
Perfect Disguise
Polar Opposites
Satellite Skin
Satin in a Coffin
Shit Luck
Space Travel is Boring
The Cold Part
The View
What People Are Made Of

Songs 26 through 39 in alphabetical order:

A Different City
Convenient Parking
Custom Concern
Float On
Fly Trapped in a Jar
Gravity Rides Everything
Interstate 8
Life Like Weeds
Lounge (Closing Time)
Never Ending Math Equation
Novocain Stain
Paper Thin Walls
Parting of the Sensory
Truckers Atlas

The Top 25:

1.      Teeth Like God's Shoeshine
2.      Doin' the Cockroach
3.      The Whale Song
4.      Exit Does Not Exist
5.      3rd Planet
6.      Spitting Venom
7.      Dramamine
8.      Heart Cooks Brain
9.      Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset
10.    Tiny Cities Made of Ashes
11.    Dark Center of the Universe
12.    Tundra/Desert
13.    Trailer Trash
14.    The Stars are Projectors
15.    Edit the Sad Parts
16.    Bury Me with It
17.    Ocean Breathes Salty
18.    Broke
19.    Head South
20.    Steam Engenius
21.    Cowboy Dan
22.    Black Cadillacs
23.    I Came as a Rat
24.    Invisible
25.    The World at Large

If I assign points to the Top 25, with The World at Large receiving 1 point and Teeth Like God's Shoeshine receiving 25 points, the albums, EPs and compilations would be ranked like this:

The Lonesome Crowded West - 85 points
The Moon & Antarctica - 67 points
This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About - 65 points
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank - 26 points
Interstate 8 - 25 points
Good News for People Who Love Bad News - 24 points
No One's First and You're Next - 23 points
Building Nothing Out of Something - 8 points

That confirms my gut feeling that The Lonesome Crowded West is my favorite album by Modest Mouse, and that The Moon & Antarctica is second. What surprises me is how close This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About gets to the top two. As I said at the outset, all of these releases contain plenty of great songs. It's almost impossible to accurately rank them, but I have done my best. There's probably not another person on earth who would come up with the same Top 25, or even the same Top 10.

Feel free to comment and add your own selections.



The lonesome crowded quest - ranking songs 6-10


After a week of intense writing, plus a lot of soul searching and associated anguish, I'm ready to rank songs six through 10. For those of you who need to know, the remaining 10 songs come from four albums and one EP. There are three songs on the list that I know for sure belong in the Top 5, so my initial task for this round was to listen to the other seven to decide which five to cut. Then, of course, the almost impossible task of ranking them.


10. Tiny Cities Made of Ashes - from The Moon & Antarctica


We're goin' down the road towards tiny cities made of ashes
I'm gonna hit you on the face
I'm gonna punch you in your glasses, oh no

I just got a message that said, "Yeah hell is freezin' over"
I got a phone call from the Lord sayin'
"Hey boy get a sweater, right now"

So we're drinkin', drinkin', drinkin', drinkin', coca coca cola
I can feel it rollin' right on down, oh right on down my throat
And as we're headed down the road towards tiny cities made of ashes
I'm gonna get dressed up in plastic gonna shake hands with the masses oh no

Does anybody know a way that a body could get away?
Does anybody know a way?
Does anybody know a way that a body could get away?
Does anybody know a way?

We're goin' down the road towards tiny cities made of ashes
I'm gonna hit you on the face
I'm gonna punch you in your glasses, oh no

I'm wearin' myself a T-shirt that says "The world is my ashtray"
Our hearts pump dust and our hair's all gray
And I just got a message sayin' that hell has frozen over"
I got a phone call from the Lord sayin'
"Hey boy get a sweater, right now"

Does anybody know a way that a body could get away?
Does anybody know a way?
Does anybody know a way?

We're drinkin', drinkin', drinkin', drinkin', coca coca cola
I can feel it rollin' right on down, oh right on down my throat
And as we're headed down the road
Towards tiny cities made of ashes
I'm gonna lay down in the spa
Where they coat you in molasses, right now

Does anybody know a way that a body could get away?
Does anybody know a way?
Does anybody know a way that a body could get away?
Does anybody know a way?

I'm a little bit surprised that Tiny Cities Made of Ashes didn't crack my Top 5. When I sent a friend a track to introduce her to the band, this was the one I chose. Her interest was definitely piqued. Maybe I subconsciously sent something more suited to her taste? This is not a typical Modest Mouse song. The bass is more prominent than on most tracks, and it's full of little gimmicks. The vocals range from ranting to calm and reasonable. The guitar spirals and weaves in and out of the song. What I really like is the way the intricate guitar overlays some of the vocals. If you focus on what is going on in the background, you'll hear what I mean. The outro is pretty great too. I love the song, but apparently there are nine I love more. If it has a fault at all, maybe it's that it contains one gimmick too many?


9. Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset - from This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About


Oh noose, tied myself in
Tied myself too tight

Looking kind of anxious
In your cross-armed stance
Like a bad tempered prom queen
At a homecoming dance

And I claim I'm not excited with my life any more
So I blame this town, this job, these friends
The truth is it's myself

I'm trying to understand myself
And pinpoint where I am
I finally get it figured out
I've change the whole damn plan

Oh noose, tied myself in
Tied myself too tight
Oh noose, tied myself in
Tied myself too tight

Talking shit about a pretty sunset
Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon
I've changed my mind so much I can't even trust it
My mind changed me so much I can't even trust myself

This song always reminds me of my friends. They suffer from a fetish that makes them move house about once a year. The latest move had them swooning at how beautiful the sunset was, as if the sun was theirs and everyone else has an inferior version. It's certainly nothing to do with the scenery around their property. Oh, and now they are moving again, so who knows whether the sunset will be as pretty? That memory aside, I love Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset for a number of more personal reasons. It's beautiful musically, but what really makes it stand out is the honesty in the lyrics. This is about a young man realizing that he has the power to change his life, and that he can't trust his decisions. On more than one occasion, I've been close to tears listening to the song. What an image the bad tempered prom queen conjures up! Great lyrics, and music that flows beautifully throughout the song.


8. Heart Cooks Brain - from The Lonesome Crowded West


Slow walk
It's a land mine
It's a coal mine
It's a bad thought

I'm on my way to god don't know
My brain's the burger and my heart's the coal
I'm trying to get my head clear
I push things out through my mouth but get refilled through my ears
I get refilled through my ears
I get refilled through my ears

I'm on my way to god don't know or even care
My brain's the weak heart, and my heart's the long stairs
My heart's the long stairs, my heart's the long stairs

Inland from Vancouver's shores
The ravens and the seagulls push each other inward and outward
Inward and outward

In this place that I call home
My brain's a cliff, and my heart's the bitter buffalo
My heart's the bitter buffalo

We tore one down, and erected another there
The match of the century: absence versus thin air

I'm on my way to god don't know
My brain's the burger and my heart's the coal
In this life that we call home
The years go fast and the days go so slow
The days go so slow
The days go slow

I'm on my way to god don't know
My brain's the burger and my heart's the coal
I'm trying to get my head clear
I push things out through my mouth but get refilled through my ears
I get refilled through my ears
I get refilled

I'm on my way to god don't know or even care
My brain's the weak heart, and my heart's the long stairs
My heart's the long stairs, my heart's the long stairs

Inland from Vancouver's shores
The ravens and the seagulls push each other inward and outward
Inward and outward

In this place that I call home
My brain's a cliff, and my heart's the bitter buffalo
My heart's the bitter buffalo

We tore one down, and erected another there
The match of the century: absence versus thin air
Absence versus thin air

In this life that we call home
The years go fast and the days go slow
The days go so slow

It's slow and repetitive, but strangely hypnotic. Heart Cooks Brain could be the soundtrack to a documentary about exploring another planet. It sounds inquisitive and seems to be searching for something. I'm glad that the bitter buffalo hasn't jumped off the cliff yet. Like Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, there's a lot going on in the layers beneath the lyrics. The scratchy guitar adds texture and weight to the song. Incidentally, it's perfectly positioned on the album, offering a reflective pause between the rants of Teeth Like God's Shoeshine and Convenient Parking.


7. Dramamine - from This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About


Traveling, swallowing, Dramamine
Feeling spaced breathing out Listerine
I'd said what I'd said that I'd tell you
And that you'd killed the better part of me

If you could just milk it for everything
I've said what I've said and you know what I mean
But I still can't focus on anything
We kiss on the mouth but still cough down our sleeves

Traveling, swallowing, Dramamine
Look at your face like you're killed in a dream
And you think you've figured out everything
I think I know my geography pretty damn well

You say what you need so you'll get more
If you could just milk it for everything
I've said what I've said and you know what I mean
But I can't still focus on anything

What can I say about Dramamine? The 75-second intro may be the best on any Modest Mouse song. It makes me enter an almost dreamlike state. That mood is broken slightly by the way the lyrics are punctuated with louder bursts of noise, but the overall journey still retains that escapist vibe. I'm shocked that it isn't in my Top 5. The loops at the very end of the song don't really work for me, and I would rather the music had just faded out. That's a minor quibble because Dramamine is close to perfection.


6. Spitting Venom - from We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank


We were spitting venom
At most everyone we know
If the damned gave us a road map
Then we'd know just where to go

Now let it drop
Let it all drop
Let it all drop
Oh, let it all fall off

Well you were talking soda pop
You were talking quite a lot
The opinions that I do not give
The opinions I ain't got

So let it drop
Let it all drop
Let it all drop
Let it all fall off there, oh

Well, you were spitting venom
At most everyone you know
If you truly knew the gravity
You'd know which way to go

Well, let it drop
Let it all drop
Let it all drop
Oh let it all fall off

My ears were pressed so firmly
Right against your mouth to hear
When you tried to spit the venom out
Your words were not so clear, now drop

Hold on to what you need
We've got a knack for fucked up history
Hold on to what you need
We've got a knack for messed up history

Well we went downtown
And we sat in the rain
Both looking one direction and waiting for a train of thought over
Thought over

I didn't know you kept track
I didn't know there was a score
Well it looks like you're the winner and I ain't gonna play no more
It's over, game over

Well we walked real stiff and our canes tapped the ground
You hit me with yours
And said "you're gonna' stare me down"
It's over, oh it's over

You can say what you want but don't act like you care
It takes more than one person
To decide what's fair
It's over, think it over

You were spitting venom
At most everyone you know
If the damned gave you a road map
Then you'd know just where to go

So we carried all the groceries in
While hauling out the trash
And if this doesn't make us motionless
I do not know what can is to be said, so's to say

What a rotten thing to say
Such an awful thing to say
I didn't mean to bite you so really
What always did, what always did, what always had to sling

So let it drop
Let it all drop
Let it all drop
Oh, let it all fall off

Let it drop
Let it all drop
Let it drop
Oh, let it all fall off

Cheer up baby
It wasn't always quite so bad
For every venom then that came out
The antidote was had

Cheer up baby
It wasn't always quite so bad
For every venom then that came out
The antidote was had

Cheer up baby
It wasn't always quite so bad
For every venom then that came out
The antidote was had

Spitting Venom may be the most complete song Modest Mouse has released thus far. It was stuck in my head for days when I first heard it. I'm absolutely certain that it is my favorite track from We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. The stark presentation of the lyrics in the song's opening work wonderfully, but when the full band kicks in at the 87-second mark, it becomes a different beast entirely. Brock's lyrics come thick and fast, with urgency and (sorry) venom. The song ends with a symphony of sound, that sometimes feels too long, but somehow always leaves me wanting more. There are five songs better than this in the band's catalog? Yes, I think so. They will be revealed in the final installment.

Modest Mouse: The Lonesome Crowded Quest - Ranking the Songs Part 1
Modest Mouse: The Lonesome Crowded Quest - Ranking the Songs Part 2
Modest Mouse: The Lonesome Crowded Quest - Ranking the Songs Part 3
Modest Mouse: The Lonesome Crowded Quest - Ranking the Songs Part 4
Modest Mouse: The Lonesome Crowded Quest - Ranking the Songs Part 5
Modest Mouse: The Lonesome Crowded Quest - Ranking the Songs Part 6
Modest Mouse: The Lonesome Crowded Quest - Ranking the Songs Part 8