Sound — 9
If you're among the millions that heard Modest Mouse's single from the last album Float On and enjoyed it, then you will likely relish what you hear on the band's latest CD, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. The record follows a bit of the same formula as Float On, taking what seem like straightforward songs and transforming them into something quite unique with various vocal styles and backup instrumentation. In the end, the latest offering is a collection of songs that has the ability to feel both familiar and fresh at the same time, and it should easily find a place in the college radio rotation.
The addition of Ex-Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr to the band has been a beneficial one. He is listed as a primary co-writer on We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, which does feature several tracks that have subtle, but very effective guitar elements. Marr and vocalist/guitarist Isaac Brock's work stand out immediately on tracks like Bukowski and Fly Trapped In A Jar feature an odd, almost off-key-sounding guitar part that comes across extremely cool and immediately draws you in.
The second track Dashboard is another interesting listen on the CD and not surprisingly was already released as the first single off the album. The song is an infectious with it's horn section, a funky little lick during the verse and chorus, and Brock sounding a bit like Talking Heads' frontman David Byrne. Brock's ability to go from sweet to awkward to powerful in his vocals has always a huge selling point for Modest Mouse's music and Dashboard represents some of his best work.
Fire It Up is a bit monotonous in its basic form, with certain lines being repeated several times over the course of the song. This is not to say that there is not anything unique going on underneath it all. Towards the end of the song, you'll hear chimes that sound like triangles and with the vocal tracks being played in rounds over each other, there is an eventual payoff. Plenty of the tracks do have this repeating form, but Modest Mouse still has an amazing ability to build momentum.
Lyrics — 9
The lyrics are just as intriguing as the music on Modest Mouse's latest, and you can always be guaranteed at least a few pithy lines in each track. In Dashboard, there are lines galore that feature the witty lyrical content that Modest Mouse is known for dishing out. In one line Brock sings, Well, the windshield was broken but I love the fresh air y'know; The dashboard melted but we still have the radio. There is not talk about heartache, anger, or emotional agony, and it's a welcome change.
The band takes it even a step further away from the lyrical norm in Parting Of The Sensory. This track delves into an almost scientific world and you have to give Modest Mouse credit for attempting to throw in some unusual topics. Brock sings, Dehydrate back into minerals; A life long walk to the same exact spot; Carbon's anniversary; The parting of the sensory. The band has not just thrown a bunch of predictable rhyme schemes together, and it's enhanced all the more by Brock's manic delivery.
Overall Impression — 9
Modest Mouse is radio accessible with it's melodic, generally fun songs, but hopefully general audiences will be able to appreciate that there's much more going on beneath the catchy tunes. A word of warning: If you grew tired of the last album's Float On being overplayed, then you might not quite be ready to indulge in the 14 new tracks on We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. They generally do have the same feel as Float On and could be a little much to get through.
For those who didn't OD on Float On, the latest album is a worthwhile buy. I would dare say that at least half of the tracks you'll immediately find intriguing. The band has a keen sense of catchy riffs and they are scattered a bit of everywhere on the album. When you add that to Brock's wild vocals, the latest album makes for a fascinating listen.