Modest Mouse ascended to Indie rock loyalty in the 2000s when they broke through with their album ‘Good News For People Who Love Bad News’, which had them cleaning up their sound somewhat to produce Indie rock and pop gems like everyone’s favourite ‘Float On’. There is a certain madness about their music especially when it comes to the lead singer, Isaac Brock who’s vocals are always manic and give a certain distinctiveness to their music.
‘Strangers To Ourselves’ is Modest Mouse’s first album in 8 years. They’ve been making it for quite some time now with lots of false starts in the studio. As a result of that some of the material feels like it could have been released in 2005 – in a good way. In parts that brilliant madness seems to still be in place like on the lead single ‘Lampshades Of Fire’ which just sounds like classic Modest Mouse. ‘The Best Room’ is another song like this with its bouncy groove and extremely witty lyricism, it’s a moment of pure ecstasy.
But of course, Modest Mouse don’t want to stay stagnant so they’ve tried in places to move the band in directions they’ve rarely gone before. Some of the songs on the album have sounds that could have come straight out of some dance tracks like ‘Pistol [A.Cunanan, Miami, FL 1996]’ and ‘The Ground Walks With Time In A Box’ which both use some vocal manipulations and electronic dabblings. This decision to experiment like this works in places like on ‘Pistol’ which has a brilliant groove on it, but then at the same time it’s ruined by some of its songwriting which feels obnoxious when there are lyrics like ‘Why don’t you come into my room and clean my pistol, no duh?’. Whereas the songwriting on ‘The Ground…’ would be okay but the vocal manipulations feel off-putting and jarring as it often sounds like he’s using autotune.
This is one part of the album where Modest Mouse don’t quite sound themselves. Maybe we’re just not used to the experimentation; but then again it gets worse on other parts of the album that should be Modest Mouse’s speciality. On the slower more moody tracks on the album they seem to have lost their identity in that they glide into complacency. The opening title track is completely forgettable – the performances are dull and so is the song structure. Even when the slower songs do work slightly there’s a nagging feeling that it could be better. ‘Coyotes’ has a really pretty melody and chorus but when the crescendo comes it doesn’t really feel like any tension has particularly been built up and there’s nothing gained from the song.
Modest Mouse do feel as hungry as ever to make the record that they’ve been promising fans for so long and there’s a sincerity behind all of the music on here even if it doesn’t pay off in a lot of places. This is evident on the song ‘Ansel’ which has Brock talking about the passing of his brother, ‘Na, you can’t know / The last time you’ll ever see another soul / No, you never get to know’. It’s a moment where Brock allows the instrumentation to give him the space to ponder upon what’s happened to him in an intimate way.
Because of the length of the album being so long (56 minutes but it feels longer) and the fact that Modest Mouse jump around so much in terms of style throughout the album, there’s a horrible notion that somewhere in this LP there’s very good concise album. As it stands, it remains a strange comeback album – one with a few gems that’s bound to please long terms fans, or ones to throw in a greatest hits collection. But not much more.
Best Tracks: Ansel, The Best Room, Lampshades On Fire