Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Building nothing out of something - songs 55 to 51


This installment is Part 11 in the series and marks the halfway point of the Modest Mouse Top 100 countdown. I've spent about 25 hours so far, agonizing over the position of the 50 songs and forming my thoughts about each one. The biggest bonus for me is that I know the songs better than I did two weeks ago when I started this project. I've even uncovered a few lyrics that had previously escaped me. If you are still with me, we obviously share a deep love of the band.

The five choices this round were even more difficult than the last. I eventually whittled the list down to six before making the decisions about the final order and which five to include. At least I know the first song for the next part in this series.

55. Sugar Boats (Strangers to Ourselves)

This rock of ours is just some big mistake
And we will never know just where we go
Or where we have came from
These veins of mine are now some sort of fuse
And when they light up and my mind blows up
My heart is amused so
This heart of mine is just some sort of map
That doesn't care at all or worry about where the hell you're at
But you're right there

Well, I've been meaning to dismiss you
Yeah I have some plans to dismiss you
So stand by, by, by, by, bye-bye
Wave bye, sugar boats!
As soon as you paint every last grain of sand
As you soon as you paint every star
In the sky, sky, sky, sky, sky, sky
Wave bye, sugar boats!
Well, I'm swatting at mosquitoes as they're orbiting me
I'm orbiting the sun and this goes on and on and on, you see
This heart of mine is just some broke machine
And when it gets a-goin', and it often gets goin'
It starts blowin' steam
Here we go again!

This rock of ours is just some big mistake
And we will never know just where we go
Or where we have came from
This watch of mine is like some sort of void
Cause when I look in, and I shouldn't look in
I, I see it swallow my time
Oh no, there it goes!

I ain't getting on no fast plane
Hell, I ain't getting on no stuffy train
Sugar boats on the Atlantic are fine
The sugar boats, they're just fine
I'll stand on the deck so you could see
I'll stand on the deck you could wave bye, bye, bye, bye
Here's the ghost that goes and waves bye, bye, bye, bye
I'm the ghost that goes and waves bye, bye, bye

Sugar Boats has been played live for the past couple of years, although it was originally called Heart of Mine. Every time I hear it, I imagine some kind of demonic fairground. My favorite element of the song is the vocal delivery. I tend to favor songs where Brock sounds like he's barely controlling the chaos. The album version is more polished, but I wanted to share this live version as the audio quality of the whole concert is so good.



54. Dashboard (We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank)

Well, it would've been
Could've been worse than you would ever know
Oh, the dashboard melted
But we still have the radio

Oh, it should've been
Could've been worse than you would ever know
Well, you told me about nowhere
Well, it sounds like someplace I'd like to go

Oh, it could've been
Should've been worse than you would ever know
Well, the windshield was broken
But I love the fresh air you know
(The dashboard melted, but we still have the radio)

Oh, it would've been
Could've been worse than you would ever know, oh!
(The dashboard melted, but we still have the radio)
Oh, we talked about nothing
Which was more than I wanted you to know-oh-oh-oh-oh
Now here we go!

Oh, it would've been
Could've been worse than it had even gone
Well, the car was on blocks, but I was already where I want
(It was impossible, we ran it good, we ran it good)

Why should we ever even ever really even get to know?
(It was impossible, we ran it good, we ran it good)
Oh, if the world don't like us
It'll shake us just like we were a co-oh-oh-oh-old
Now here we go!

Well, we scheme, and we scheme, but we always blow it
We've yet to crash, but we still might as well enjoy it
Standing at a light switch to each east and west horizon
Every dawn you're surprising
And the evening was consoling
Saying, "See, it wasn't quite as bad as"

Well, it would've been
Could've been worse than you would ever know

I was patiently erasing and recording the wrong episodes
After you had proved my point wrong
It wasn't like I'd let it go, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh
I just wanted to catch the last laugh of this show

Yeah, it would've been
Could've been worse than you would ever know
Oh, the dashboard melted, but we still have the radio
(The dashboard melted, but we ran it good, we ran it good)

Hard-wired to conceive, so much we'd have to stow it
Even needs have needs, tiny giants made of tinier giants
Don't wear eyelids so I don't miss the last laugh of this show
(The dashboard melted, but we still have the radio)

Oh, we could've been
Should've been worse than you would ever know
(The dashboard melted, but we still have the radio)
Well, you told me about nowhere
Well, it sounds like someplace I'd like to go-oh-oh-oh-oh
Now here we go!

Well, we scheme, and we scheme, but we always blow it
We've yet to crash, but we still might as well enjoy it
Standing at a light switch to each east and west horizon
Every dawn you're surprising
And the evening was consoling
Saying, "See, it wasn't quite as bad as"

Oh, it would've been
Could've been worse than you would ever know

Dashboard showcases the sheer quality of the band's rhythm section. On the surface, it sounds like borderline disco or dance, but there's so much going on underneath. As with many songs, Brock's vocals elevate it to a different level. He sings with so much energy and enthusiasm and it's contagious.

Everything is perfectly synchronized, from the funky guitar, to the bass and the drums. Some of the sweeping breaks sound almost orchestral in scope. The slick backing vocals are offsets by Brock's all-out delivery. It all feels like it belongs.

Here's the Letterman performance when Johnny Marr was part of the band:



53. Education (We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank)   

Call it education
It was somewhere in between
You gave me some sound advice
But I wasn't listening

After we had capsized
I could tell you how you thought
Well, I'm not sure
But laid to rest on the city on the wall

Not quite conversation
It was somewhere in between
You said everything you thought
And I listened patiently

All this talking pony
Still monkeys the whole time
We could not help from flinging shit
In our modern suits and ties

Our instincts, they were cringing
About how we lived our lives
It didn't seem we'd lived enough
To even get to die

All these days distractions
So beautifully complex
Well, I loved life's surprises so much
I don't want to know what's happened

Stubborn shouting, said, "I don't do what you do"
I don't know could it really hear highly if you highly care?
And you don't stubborn beauty, stubborn beauty
I've been away

Hardly education
It was somewhere in between
Oh, I hit the roof but I had
Aimed for the ceiling

Hardly education
All them books I didn't read
They just sat there on my shelf
Looking much smarter than me

Good old Nostradamus
He knew the whole damn time
That always being east from west
Someone in there fighting

Stubborn shouting, said, "I don't do what you do"
I don't know could it really hear highly if you highly care?
Just don't stubborn beauty, stubborn beauty
I've been away

Stubborn beauty, stubborn beauty
I don't know anyway
Stubborn beauty, stubborn beauty
I don't know

Could it really hear highly if you highly care?
As you don't stubborn beauty, stubborn beauty
Uh, I fell away

Stubborn beauty, stubborn beauty
Oh, very well, then
Stubborn beauty, stubborn beauty
Oh, very well, then

Stubborn beauty, stubborn beauty
Oh, very well, then
Oh, very well, then

Education has a style all it's own. The thing I like most about the song is the way that the vocals are delivered. As for lyrics, this verse jumps out at me:

"Hardly education
All them books I didn't read
They just sat there on my shelf
Looking much smarter than me"

Every track from We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank made this Top 100. The nautical theme is referenced in most of the songs. In this case, capsized is used in the second verse. As much as I like the nine songs already ranked from this album, the remaining five are significantly stronger, or close to perfect. Here's a live video for Education:



52. Bukowski (Good News for People Who Love Bad News)

Woke up this morning and it seemed to me
That every night turns out to be
A little more like Bukowski
And yeah, I know he's a pretty good read

But God who'd wanna be?
God who'd wanna be such an asshole?
God who'd wanna be?
God who'd wanna be such an asshole?

Well we sat on the edge of the river
The crowd screamed, 'Sacrifice the liver'
If God takes life, he's an Indian giver
So tell me now why, you'll tell me never

Who would wanna be?
Who would wanna be such a control freak?
Well who would wanna be?
Who would wanna be such a control freak?

Well see what you wanna see, you should see it all
Well take what you want from me, you deserve it all
Nine times out of ten, our hearts just get dissolved
Well I want a better place or just a better way to fall
But one time out of ten, everything is perfect for us all
Well I want a better place or just a better way to fall
Here we go

If God controls the land and disease
Keeps a watchful eye on me
If He's really so damn Mighty
My problem is I can't see

Well who would wanna be?
Who would wanna be such a control freak?
Well who would wanna be?
Who would wanna be such a control freak?

Evil home stereo
What good songs do you know?
Evil me, oh yeah, I know
What good curves can you throw?

Well all that icing and all that cake
I can't make it to your wedding
But I'm sure I'll be at your wake
You were talk, talk, talk, talkin' in circles that day
When you get to the point
Make sure that I'm still awake, ok?

Went to bed and didn't see
Why every day turns out to be
A little bit more like Bukowski
And yeah, I know he's a pretty good read

But God who'd wanna be?
God who'd wanna be such an asshole?

Bukowski reminds me of Henry Mancini's Pink Panther theme. It sounds mysterious and a little sinister. The banjo adds to the weird feel and, once again, it's full of clever lyrics. Here are some of my favorites:

"If God controls the land and disease
Keeps a watchful eye on me
If He's really so damn Mighty
My problem is I can't see
Well who would wanna be?
Who would wanna be such a control freak?"

"Evil home stereo
What good songs do you know?"

"I can't make it to your wedding
But I'm sure I'll be at your wake"

There's a great tempo change  before the first lyric that I mentioned. It speeds up and has the effect of drawing us deeper into the story that the lyrics are telling. That's followed by another tempo change before the evil home stereo segment. Yep, Bukowski is all over the place, but it somehow feels cohesive.



51. What People Are Made Of (The Moon & Antarctica)

Wake up, make love

Rag weed tall
Better hope that his ladder don't crack
Or he'll hit the ground low, hard and
Under his back

At the battle at the bottom of the ocean
Where the dead do rise
You need proof I got proof
At the surface you can watch 'em float by

Way in back of the room
There sits a cage
Inside it's a clock that you can win if
You can guess its age

Which you never can do
'Cause the time it constantly change
For a lack or a luck
I guess that is the saying

On the first page of the 'Book of Blue'
It read
"If you read this page
Then that'll be your death"

By then it was too late and you wound up on
An island of shells and bones that bodies had left
And the one thing you taught me 'bout human beings was this
They ain't made of nothin' but water and shit

Ten years ago, The Moon & Antarctica was my favorite Modest Mouse album. What People Are Made Of was one of my favorite three or four songs from the album. Today, I love both the album and the song more than I ever did, but I think there is at least one better album from the band. I have ten songs from the album ranked higher than What People Are Made Of. The reason is that I have a deeper appreciation for the band's entire body of work. After listening over the years, I have attached memories to them and come to know them a lot better than I did before.

I have always believed that familiarity with music can greatly heighten our love for it. That's why you can hear a new song at a concert and thing it was pretty good, and then at some point after the album is released you start thinking it's brilliant. Our brains anticipate what's coming next and we look forward to the good stuff.

What People Are Made Of is my kind of music. It's exciting and an all-out rant. Some of the lyrics are amusing, such as the last line:

"And the one thing you taught me 'bout human beings was this
They ain't made of nothin' but water and shit"

Put the song in the context of the mostly dreamlike sound present on the album and the wall of sound is jarring. The guitar, drums and shouted lyrics combine to great effect. I think it's a great way to finish an album. I like how it just abruptly stops too.



That concludes the first half of this monumental task. I haven't even started working out which five songs will be in the next installment, so it probably won't be ready until Friday or Saturday. If you are enjoying this look at Modest Mouse's music half as much as I am, you must be pretty happy. I'm just shaking my head at the quality of it all.

Thanks for reading. Here's the story so far, with links to the other parts of the series:

100. Birds Vs Worms
99. Fire It Up
98. We've Got Everything
97. Dukes Up
96. Out of Gas
95. Strangers to Ourselves
94. Of Course We Know
93. Space Travel Is Boring
92. Styrofoam Boots/It's All Nice on Ice, Alright
91. Dance Hall
90. She Ionizes & Atomizes
89. Other People's Lives
88. Whenever You Breathe Out, I Breathe In (Positive Negative)
87. One Chance
86. Polar Opposites
85. Might
84. Pups to Dust
83. Sunspots in the House of the Late Scapegoat
82. All Night Diner 
81. March Into the Sea
80. Coyotes
79. Blame It On the Tetons
78. The Good Times Are Killing Me
77. Perfect Disguise
76. A Life of Arctic Sounds
75. Satellite Skin
74. Ohio
73. People as Places as People
72. The Waydown
71. Guilty Cocker Spaniels
70. Florida
69. Missed the Boat
68. The Cold Part
67. Whenever You See Fit
66. Wicked Campaign
65. Lives
64. Beach Side Property
63. Bankrupt On Selling
62. Shit Luck
61. Little Motel
60. Satin in Your Coffin
59. Shit in Your Cut
58. The View
57. Ansel
56. Custom Concern
55. Sugar Boats
54. Dashboard
53. Education
52. Bukowski
51. What People Are Made Of

Building nothing out of something (overview)
Building nothing out of something - songs 85 to 81
Building nothing out of something - songs 80 to 76
Building nothing out of something - songs 75 to 71
Building nothing out of something - songs 70 to 66
Building nothing out of something - songs 65 to 61
Building nothing out of something - songs 60 to 56
Building nothing out of something - songs 55 to 51
Building nothing out of something - songs 50 to 46
Building nothing out of something - songs 45 to 41
Building nothing out of something - songs 40 to 36
Building nothing out of something - songs 35 to 31
Building nothing out of something - songs 30 to 26
Building nothing out of something - songs 25 to 21
Building nothing out of something - songs 20 to 16
Building nothing out of something - songs 15 to 11
Building nothing out of something - songs 10 to 6
Building nothing out of something - the Top 5

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