In the first seven years of the new millennium, Modest Mouse released their most critically acclaimed album The Moon and Antarctica (2000), their most popular song “Float On” (2004), and an album that reached #1 on the Billboard 200, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007). In the seven years since that impressive run, the band has been relatively silent, with only sporadic festival appearances, a b-side EP, and promises of collaborations with Outkast’s Big Boi to remind us Modest Mouse was still a thing. After years of tantalizing rumors and false alarms, Modest Mouse is back for real with Strangers to Ourselves.
A few songs on Strangers to Ourselves (“The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box”, “Lampshades on Fire”, “The Best Room”) share the jerky and boisterous radio-readiness that made earlier songs like “Float On” and “Dashboard” hits. Outside of those tracks, Strangers to Ourselves has noticeable differences from previous Modest Mouse albums. For one, the use of synths and electronic sounds is prevalent throughout the album. In the brooding opening title track, Isaac Brock’s crooning vocals and a gently rolling cello are speckled with ethereal electronics, while “S*** in Your Cut” features a dirty hip-hop beat. Gentle pads on “Wicked Campaign” subtly recall the lightness of The xx or The Postal Service, before building into another stadium-ready Modest Mouse melody. Not every experiment goes quite so well. On “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, Fl. 1996)”, the heavily modified growling singing voice and attempted edginess just sound like a poor man’s “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes”.
Despite the occasional misstep, Strangers to Ourselves is Modest Mouse’s most dense, layered, and well-produced album thus far. At times the album sounds like a Modest Mouse greatest hits cover band with Arcade Fire’s instruments, since there are so many stylistic callbacks to the band’s eclectic 20+ year career. As expected, the record is abundant in guitar hooks. Isaac Brock still growls, whispers, and shouts at us from track to track, with lyrics about man’s careless treatment of nature. On “Lampshades on Fire”, humanity is looking for a new, unspoiled planet to “make the same mistakes” on; later on “Coyotes”, the titular animals “tip-toe in the snow after dark”, afraid of mankind “behavin’ like serial killers”. The album infuses The Lonesome Crowded West‘s cry against urbanized excess with the introspectively existential The Moon and Antarctica, though overall Strangers to Ourselves isn’t quite as thought-provoking as those albums. Nonetheless, there is a lot to like here: highlights like “Strangers to Ourselves”, “S*** in Your Cut”, and “Wicked Campaign” should not be missed. Although it’s not their most groundbreaking release, I’m really just glad Modest Mouse is back releasing new music. As if one album wasn’t enough, Isaac Brock has already promised a sister album to Strangers to Ourselves is well on its way. It’s a great time to be a Modest Mouse fan.
Stranger to Ourselves is out March 17 via Epic Records. Check out their video for “Coyotes” below.