How do you tackle a band as pervasive and well-loved as Modest Mouse? The Washington-based outfit fronted by Isaac Brock has been operating longer as a band than I have as a human being so I feel it appropriate that a natural pecking order be set in place here. Eight years on from their fifth record We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, Modest Mouse have made a tremendous return to the public consciousness with their newest effort Strangers To Ourselves.
Modest Mouse show no sign of easing up on their sixth full length release Strangers To Ourselves. Issac Brock and the gang are back doing what they do best.
I make a note of mentioning Isaac Brock. Modest Mouse without Isaac would be like LCD Soundsytem without James Murphy, or The National without Matt Beringer – it just wouldn’t be. Brock’s charismatic vocal work, colourful lyricism, and of course his ineffable songwriting charm are at the very core of Modest Mouse’s longstanding intrigue. Though it’s close to a decade since their last full length, there’s no dilution of said intrigue to be found. On the contrary, Strangers To Ourselves is an accomplishment, with some of Modest Mouse’s finest material to be enjoyed here.
Let’s start with the lead single, Lampshades on Fire. It’s essentially a party anthem set to the tune of apocalyptical alternative rock, and its lyrics, like a sizeable portion of Modest Mouse’s body of work, are riddled with playful contradictions, which is something of a underlying idea on this record. The opening track Strangers To Ourselves seems to wind down the album before it has begun with it’s calming, cello-driven pensiveness, and the journey that is Of Course We Know is a defiantly out-of-place closer as a grandiose ballad that calls upon the Lord to lay down his own damn soul in the way that only a grandiose ballad could.
Instrumentally, this album is a largely inoffensive affair. Brock sticks to his guns with a steady, familiar stream of guitar driven alternative rock that occasionally detours into folk, pop and cabaret inspired romps. In this way, the group has picked up exactly where they left off; save for slicker production, most of these songs could easily fit on a mid-2000s Modest Mouse record. The more left of field tracks, such as Pistol with its heavily flanged vocals and uneasily eclectic instrumental are obtusely delightful, and while these tracks serve as definite nods to the diehard fans, they’re generally confounding mysteries to everyone else.
There’s always been something of a disconnect between Isaac Brock’s vocals and the Modest Mouse instrumentals, like two synapses that are almost in sync, but not quite. As ever, on Strangers To Ourselves, Brock vocally dances, skips and twirls around the steady compositions with an unpredictable cadence, resulting in brief rises into falsetto, strained howls and a hotfooted inflection.
If you’re not familiar with Modest Mouse and haven’t shared in their well-crafted and considered tunes, I couldn’t think of a better place to start then Strangers To Ourselves. Eight years on since their most recent full-length, Modest Mouse have only strengthened in their ability to write sturdy, alternative compositions drizzled with eccentric and alluring vocal work. For a band that’s been active for the better part of two decades, there’s no sign that this Washington band have any intention of slowing down just yet.
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