Sunday, July 27, 2014

In praise of Modest Mouse

So, I'm going to see Modest Mouse in five days time. I've only been a fan for around 10 years and this will be the first time I have seen them perform live. This is the last band from my Top 10 that I am yet to see, so I'm excited to say the least.

When I found out about the tour, I was on the fence about whether I should go. None of my friends like the same kind of music as me, so I'll be going alone. It will take seven or eight hours out of my day for a 90-minute concert. It will also cost me over $100 for the day, and I am very cautious about spending money on things I don't absolutely need.

The other consideration was the likely set list. A month ago, all I wanted to hear were The Lonesome Crowded West and The Moon & Antarctica. Both albums are close to perfect and I have played them often since I first heard of the band. Initial efforts to get into their other albums largely failed. I remember being very disappointed with We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank when it was released.

After taking the plunge and buying the ticket, I decided to do my research and find out what was being played at the band's recent shows. I made a playlist of about 45 songs, took them to work, and played them every day for the past month.

A funny thing happened.

It turns out that there aren't just two great albums by Modest Mouse. Indeed, I find it almost impossible to narrow down their best tracks to a playlist under three hours. Weird, right? How could I have missed that the first time I listened to the other albums? Well, I think it's due to a few factors.

The songs are usually layered and complex, and too dense to take in casually. This is not pop, or a band that relies on hooks. However, when you really make the effort and dig deeper, all kinds of interesting things emerge. Like almost every vocalist I love, Isaac Brock can't really sing. It doesn't matter a bit. The lyrics are intelligent and thoughtful for the most part. What separates Modest Mouse from the pack is the way the oddly-shaped components work together. Some of the guitar work is up there with the best I have ever heard, but each instrument is important.

I think a lot of my friends think I am elitist or deliberately choosing weird things that I claim I get and they don't. That's not the case at all. I honestly couldn't give a damn about investing time and effort in things that I don't like, just so I can make that claim. I obsess about certain bands because I love the music. It alters my mood and makes me happy even when the rest of my day is going badly.

Why am I even bothering to write this post? Because I like to share the things I care about. That's the same reason I write about movies. I rarely review something I don't like.

I'm hoping that someone out there who initially dismissed Modest Mouse will revisit their discography and discover something amazing. I've already said that I find it almost impossible to pick out the band's best tracks, but I'll try:

This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About (74:03)
Dramamine, Breakthrough, Custom Concern, Lounge, Beach Side Property, Head South, Novocain Stain, Tundra/Desert, Exit Does Not Exist, Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset, Space Travel Is Boring

Long Drive is a 74-minute debut that is often raw, but ultimately rewarding. Probably not the best place to start, but a must-own once you get into Modest Mouse completely.

The Lonesome Crowded West (73:58)
Teeth Like God's Shoeshine, Heart Cooks Brain, Convenient Parking, Lounge (Closing Time), Doin' the Cockroach, Cowboy Dan, Trailer Trash, Out of Gas, Shit Luck, Truckers Atlas, Polar Opposites, Bankrupt on Selling

Another 74-minute album, and you can see that I've listed almost every track. The songs are varied and incredible in different ways. This is the album that I most often think of as the band's best, but it's close when compared with...

The Moon & Antarctica (59:43)
3rd Planet, Gravity Rides Everything, Dark Center of the Universe, Perfect Disguise, Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, A Different City, The Cold Part, Alone Down There, The Stars Are Projectors, Paper Thin Walls, I Came as a Rat, Lives, Life Like Weeds, What People Are Made Of

Again, I've listed almost every track. This album actually flows better when you play it in its entirety, rather than cherry picking the best tracks (which is almost impossible anyway).

Good News for People Who Love Bad News (48:50)
The World At Large, Float On, Ocean Breathes Salty, Bury Me with It, Dance Hall, Bukowski, The View, Satin in a Coffin, Blame It on the Tetons, Black Cadillacs, One Chance, The Good Times Are Killing Me

I wasn't overly impressed with this album the first time I heard it, but that was a mistake. Like their debut, Long Drive, this is an album that works better after several listens. I love it now.

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (62:33)
March Into the Sea, Dashboard, Florida, Parting of the Sensory, Missed the Boat, Fly Trapped in a Jar, Education, Little Motel, Steam Engenius, Spitting Venom, People As Places As People, Invisible

I could easily have listed the whole album. I think I was put off by some of the more polished and accessible tracks on the first few listens, but I am now of the opinion that it doesn't have many weaknesses. I certainly wouldn't skip a track. Parting of the Sensory, Steam Engenius and Spitting Venom are all incredible.

Building Nothing Out of Something (55:24)
Never Ending Math Equation, Interstate 8, Broke, All Night Diner, Baby Blue Sedan, Other People's Lives

It says a lot about a band when a compilation of B sides and songs dropped from other albums still includes songs you wouldn't want to be without. You would hardly know that this is a collection of oddities, because it works pretty well as a whole.

Interstate 8 (55:22)
Interstate 8, All Night Diner, Tundra/Desert, Edit the Sad Parts, Beach Side Property, Novocain Stain, Broke

If you don't own Interstate 8, it will set you back close to $200 new or $100 used. It's raw, and partially live. You can find most of the tracks on other releases, but it's fantastic when you are in the right mood.

No One's First and You're Next (33:33)
Satellite Skin, Guilty Cocker Spaniels, The Whale Song

Here's an EP that's definitely worth checking out. The Whale Song is unmissable.

Baron von Bullshit Rides Again (46:28)
No new tracks on the live album, but there are some great versions of some of the band's best songs.

If you like alternative rock and have never fully investigated Modest Mouse, I urge you to do so. You might discover that this music will rank among the best you have ever heard.