Two weeks ago, I reviewed Modest Mouse’s two releases off of their upcoming album, Strangers to Ourselves, set to release on March 17th. This past week, the band dropped another single, “The Best Room”, giving more insight into the upcoming album to fans that have been waiting for nearly eight years. Like most bands that have found commercial success, Modest Mouse has polarized fans between their “pure” early works, and newer well-produced material. Whether you are looking for the Modest Mouse from recent albums like Good News For People Who Love Bad News (aka the album with “Float On”) and We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, or hoping they can incorporate more of their edgier sound from an album like The Lonesome Crowded West, these singles are much needed messages from a band who has not been responding back for far too long.
Just as with “Lampshades on Fire”, Modest Mouse hits the ground running with “The Best Room”. As most fans are aware, the beginning guitar hooks and riffs you hear from a Modest Mouse song should not be taken lightly because these often lay the groundwork for how the rest of the song will go. Unfortunately for “The Best Room”, I did not find the eight-note ostinato guitar line very captivating. The thunderous drumbeat laid by Jeremiah Green feels like the only contribution to the sound that matches Brock’s caustic lyrics. While I speculated that the album would take on a environmentalist theme judging on the lyrics of “Lampshades on Fire” and “Coyotes”, “The Best Room” seems to detract from that trend slightly. Brock addresses the entire Western culture in this one: “Oh, these Western concerns/ Hold my place in line while I get your turn.” Clearly Brock has seen some stuff going on in his hemisphere of the world, and he is not very happy about it. However, I felt like I needed some more edginess from the instrumentation of the song to match the biting lyrics.
I thought at first I was expecting to much. Perhaps the edginess I was expecting was coming from the rough sound we get from Modest Mouse when they were signed onto small-time labels for The Lonesome Crowded West and This is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About. But even after the group signed onto Epic Records and released The Moon and Antarctica in 2000, there is still a kind of grittiness to songs like “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” that evokes such a visceral response to the lyrics, despite it being very well produced.
“The Best Room” does break off into a brief interlude in the middle of the song, but largely sticks to a rough verse-chorus format. Personally, I would like to see them get away from this a little more, and occasionally diverge back into the extended, nearly self-indlugent, instrumental jam-out sessions that was prevalent in a lot of their works at one time. That sound was common to nearly every song in their first album, This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing To Think About, but is essentially just reduced to “Spitting Venom” on their last album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. To get a better understanding of what I am hoping for, let’s take a quick detour…
“Novocain Stain”(1:30sh for instrumental section)
This is A Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About
After nearly two minutes of no vocals on “Novocain Stain”, even the wailing feedback and shittiest cymbal sound you will ever hear on an album are beautiful in the way they fit into the context of the song.
“Cowboy Dan” (5:00)
The Lonesome Crowded West
This song, as well as the whole album, carries many of the same themes of rampant urbanization as “Lampshades on Fire” and “Coyotes”. However, the messages in “Cowboy Dan” seem much more desperate and frustrated, even when listening to the part of the song without any of the lyrics.
“The Star Are Projectors” (5:00)
The Moon and Antarctica
As noted earlier, The Moon and Antarctica was released through Epic Records, and the musical change for Modest Mouse was quite drastic, but still so satisfying.
“Night on the Sun” (6:00)
Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks (EP)
A shining gem in an otherwise unknown EP, “Night on the Sun” is a perfect embodiment of the kind of unapologetic jam many people are still looking for from this new Modest Mouse album.
As much as I would like to be assured that the next album will have a little bit of what I have tried to illustrate, I do not think that assurance will come from the release of a single. It just is not practical to release a six or seven minute song that lacks the ready-made structure of most radio hits. Even The Moon and Antarctica and The Lonesome Crowded West had their simple and highly accessible songs with hits like “Gravity Rides Everything” (check out the video…) and “Heart Cooks Brain“.
I still have not ruled out the possibility of liking this album, and I can definitely appreciate Modest Mouse’s willingness to constantly develop and change their sound. However, I have yet to hear anything from the releases that has gotten me more excited than the Modest Mouse classics I discovered when I first got into the band. Some fans have blamed this shift to commercialization or “selling-out”, but personally I am not so eager to attack Modest Mouse. I think that every band that has been together this long reaches a point where they increasingly leave behind their personal musical influences in search of more defining and unique sounds. Perhaps we as fans need to be willing to grow with them. Nonetheless, a few more ambitious guitar/bass/drum features would be kinda nice, but I suppose we will just have to wait until March 17th to see what the album has in store.