Saturday, November 7, 2015

Building nothing out of something - the Top 5



After years of intensive effort, costing thousands of lives, I've finally arrived at my Top 5. I also made a better quality image to show the 12 covers because I was annoyed with the crappy look of my original attempt.

Although you will know my Top 100 ranking if you make it to the end of this post, I will be writing one more installment. That will analyze whether the songs have risen or fallen compared to the rankings I did just over a year ago. I will also be mentioning a couple of unreleased songs (with video and lyrics) that would have made this Top 100 if I had deemed them eligible. In fact, one would have made the Top 20.

The final task for the remaining post will be to allocate points to each song (1 for position 100, up to 100 for number 1). That will enable me to determine a ranking for the albums, collections and EPs.

I doubt you care about any of that, but I'm curious to find out that information for myself as much as anything.

If you have been reading since my initial overview on September 19, I expect you are relieved that the suspense is finally about to end. Well, I won't leave you hanging a second longer:


5. Dramamine (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'd 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 said and you know what I mean
But I still can't still focus on anything

Dramamine is quite simply the best opening track from any debut album in the history of music (there go half the people reading this).

The song opens with more than a minute of guitar which sounds like something highly-evolved aliens might produce. I certainly feel like I have been transported to another planet when I hear it. As it echoes around, I imagine people at music festivals experiencing Modest Mouse for the first time. What would they make of this?

It also contains one of Brock's best lyrics:

"We kiss on the mouth but still cough down our sleeves"

Although it seems to be about a failing relationship, I find the song uplifting. Joy Division does that for me too. The element that allows it to transcend other songs is the guitar, but the whole structure is perfect. Listen to the bass line and how the drums play against the established beat. I almost wish it was 10 minutes long. I'm still not sure about the choice for the ending, but it has grown on me and feels like an old friend at this point.

Here's a live video from 1998:



4. Heart Cooks Brain (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
I 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 shore
The ravens and the seagulls
Push each other inward and outward
Inward and outward

In this place that I call home
My brain's the 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

On the 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
I 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 shore
The ravens and the seagulls
Push each other inward and outward
Inward and outward

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

We tore one down, and erected another there
And 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

For some reason, I think of Heart Cooks Brain as Modest Mouse's anthem and I wear my Bitter Buffalo T-shirt proudly. This is a song with so many elements that I adore.

The first few notes instantly transport me to another place; atmospheric, sinister bass, searching, and a few other feelings I can't put a name to. The sound is so dense because of the layers. Everything fits together and the guitar weaves around the basic structure. Brock's vocals are deliberately subdued, and that fits the mood of the song.

The whole thing feels like a journey with its plodding tempo forming the steps... or the long stairs.

I particularly like how some of the lyrics are delayed:

"The years go fast and the days go... slow"

I want to go to Vancouver shore just so that I can watch the ravens and seagulls.

There's one thing that I can barely put into words and maybe I am the only person on the planet that thinks it:

"We tore one down, and erected another there
And the match of the century"

It's the way that the second line follows the first in the above lyric. Can you hear it? Am I talking complete nonsense? I think it's brilliant the way that those words flow together when I sing along to it.

The final thing is the way the song suddenly stops. We're at our destination.



3. Spitting Venom (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

I think it's true to say that my favorite seven minutes of 2015 was experiencing Spitting Venom at the London Ontario concert. I had never heard it played live before and it was exciting to say the least. There's something so different about feeling the vibration of a song as well as listening to it. A live performance is the only way to know that feeling.

If I had to pick a single moment from a Modest Mouse song that excites the hell out of me the most, it's during Spitting Venom when Brock sings "now drop" and the whole band kicks in. Every fan knows what I mean. I am actually fighting back tears as I type this.

How do I even describe this song? It starts off with Brock in subdued mood, singing as he strums the guitar. It's all building to the moment described above when my world explodes. Sweeping guitar dominates, but the whole band is adding something to the enormous sound. Brock's vocals turn from laid back to complete rant and there's an urgency which defines the song.

After all that action, the song and Brock's vocals return to the opening mood. Then there is an extended sequence allowing us to regroup. It's great hearing the trumpet part played during the live show. The whole song feels so epic. The last three verses provide a great ending as it naturally winds down.

Spitting Venom may be Modest Mouse's best song, technically. I rank it third because there are two songs that excite me more, but they are much messier than this. As I have been whining about throughout this series, it's not easy choosing between songs that you would defend until your dying breath.

Although the album version is more polished, here's an extended live version from The Electric Factory 2007:



2. Doin' the Cockroach (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

Doin' the Cockroach is perfect from the first note to the end. I loved it the first time I heard it and it gets better all the time. It's a brilliant live song too and I am happy to say that it often appears on the bands setlist.

The first line is something that I would imagine most of us can relate to:

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

Just a brilliant line.

The song is a complete rant and the band goes all out for the duration. It's almost irresistible and I find myself shouting along every time I hear it. I bet I look pretty stupid driving along shouting "alright, not bad not bad", but who cares?

How do I rank this song second if it is perfect and I love every second? The next song is also perfect and lasts a little bit longer.

I'm not sure that I convey how much of an adrenaline rush this song gives me, but maybe this live video can? Back in the 90s when there were just three mice:



1. Teeth Like God's Shoeshine (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

This is it. My favorite Modest Mouse song. It took 49 days to get here, but there isn't any doubt. I love every second of this song because... how can you not?

I remember seeing the excellent Lonesome Crowded West Pitchfork documentary during which Brock was asked about the song. His reply: "What can I say, the spirit took me".

If you listen, you'll know what he means. Paul McCartney's Wings gave us Band on the Run, Queen delivered Bohemian Rhapsody, and Modest Mouse has given us Teeth Like God's Shoeshine. I mention those other two songs because of their multi-phased structures. This song goes all over the place and it's hard for someone to absorb it all with just one listen. However, once you know it, all the pieces fit together perfectly.

There are a lot of lyrics and there's so much going on in the narrative. The frantic beginning gives us rattlesnakes, harelips, effigies and  claustrophobia. Then the mood changes as Brock sings about bottling our conscience.

The tempo is constantly shifting and Brock's lyrics vary from laid back to ranting, according to the mood. My favorite moment, of many, has to be "OH MY GODDAMN" just when you thought the song was over. Then we are treated to another couple of minutes of mayhem. It's a great way to end a song and a fitting way to conclude this Top 100.

Teeth Like God's Shoeshine showcases everything that is good about Modest Mouse. It demonstrates how the atmosphere of the song can change in an instant. It shows just how huge the sound can be when the whole band is playing flat out. Brock's vocal range and various styles are all present in the same song. The band even uses silence to good effect.

Yep, the spirit took him.

Here's the video. This one is actually my first ever fan video and it was a lot of fun to make:



Well, that's it. Seven weeks of effort and you know my Top 100. As promised, there will be one more installment in the coming days to wrap everything up. I have a couple more goodies for you, so I hope that you will join me. I would also welcome any comments, but please be gentle with me if your favorites are ranked lower than you would like. We are fellow fans after all.

Thanks for reading.

Here is the final Top 100 with links to each installment:

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
50. The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box
49. Alone Down There
48. Float On
47. King Rat
46. Lampshades On Fire
45. Be Brave
44. Night on the Sun
43. Interstate 8
42. The World at Large
41. Head South
40. The Best Room
39. Gravity Rides Everything
38. Tundra/Desert
37. Paper Thin Walls
36. Convenient Parking
35. Life Like Weeds
34. A Different City
33. A Manic Depressive Named Laughing Boy
32. Grey Ice Water
31. I Came As a Rat
30. Black Cadillacs
29. Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset
28. Ocean Breathes Salty
27. Novacain Stain
26. Invisible
25. Breakthrough
24. Edit the Sad Parts
23. Broke
22. Truckers Atlas
21. Tiny Cities Made of Ashes
20. White Lies Yellow Teeth
19.Parting of the Sensory
18. The Tortoise and the Tourist
17. Bury Me With It
16. Fly Trapped In a Jar
15. Steam Engenius
14. The Stars Are Projectors
13. Lounge (Closing Time)
12. Never Ending Math Equation
11. Dark Center of the Universe
10. 3rd Planet
9. Trailer Trash
8. Cowboy Dan
7. The Whale Song
6. Exit Does Not Exist
5. Dramamine
4. Heart Cooks Brain
3. Spitting Venom
2. Doin' the Cockroach
1. Teeth Like God's Shoeshine

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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