Sound — 8
Well, well, well. So critically acclaimed US indie band Modest Mouse present us with a proper follow up to the quiet success of 2004's 'Good News For People Who Love Bad News'. And, as is always with Modest Mouse, I didn't know what to expect. And hiring up legendary ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and reuniting themselves with original drummer Jeremiah Green definitely contributed to the relative mystery surrounding the Washington-based group's fifth studio album. My first listen didn't immediately grip me, but in some ways I did expect this. The band have a frustratingly bittersweet sound, and I must warn new listeners that the music is never very easily passively listened to. A grower in every aspect, from Isaac Brock's viscious yet tuneful vocal delivery to the irregular guitar attacks of Brock and Peloso. Regardless of this, extended listening does reap rewards. Most tracks have a lush wall of instrumentation, and the occasional odd interludes compliment this perfectly, keeping things fresh while also maintaining a very accomplished sense of melody. At the top of their game, they sound like a more subdued and levelled version of the Pixies. Though not quite at the lofty heights of their 2000 indie classic 'The Moon & Antartica', they are clearly a band brimming with ideas but at the same time still hint their best is still to come.
Lyrics — 8
Isaac Brock's lyrics compliment the music perfectly, being distinctly odd in matter and composition, but still managing to throw out some extremely clever pieces of wordplay and satire. The highlights in terms of lyrical prowess in my opinion are primarily 'Missed the Boat' and 'Parting the Sensory', but I also like some of the lines in 'We've Got Everything', 'Education' and 'Spitting Venom'. Brock's songwriting is nothing less than superb most of the time, it really is something that needs to be heard to be believed. Like most of his bretheren in the wide genre of indie rock, Brock is no singer in the traditional sense. Though by no means as poor as Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel), for example, he does occasionally struggle. His clean singing far surpasses that of Mangum, however. He grasps the simple rules such as 'Always be sure whether you're going to go up or down at the end of a line' and is far from unpleasant to listen to. He does take some breaking in, however, a bit like Bob Dylan. Though Dylan couldn't deliver such a blistering display of vocals as in 'March Into the Sea', the opening track. He even manages some very nice vocals in 'Parting of the Sensory' and 'Little Motel'. Energetic but by no means fantastic. The lyrics make up for this, though.
Overall Impression — 8
When compared to the relatively tame releases swarming the indie market at the moment, Modest Mouse's latest is a refreshing break from the recent wave of lazy production and regional accents. Sharp, clean sounds throughout, as well as subtle touches just under the surface that reveal themselves upon the third or fourth listen. And although the music is never particularly easy on the ears, it does make for a very rewarding, and different, listen. My highlights from the album are the explosive and utterly brilliant opening track 'March Into the Sea', pleasant yet biting second single 'Missed the Boat', and mini-epic 'Parting of the Sensory'. Which ultimately gets my vote for 'Best Ever Song Using Geology as a Metaphor.' The album does hit the occasional sour note, however. Clocking in at over an hour and containing 14 tracks, it's no Ramones compilation. It also does drag a bit towards the end of the CD. The sprawling, 8-minute 'Spitting Venom' is one of the tracks on the record I often skip, as well as the baffling album closer 'Invisible'. But 2 out of 14 is still pretty good going. I would very strongly recommend investing in some Modest Mouse, as a very important band of the indie genre, and to sample the bizarre yet incredible songwriting of Isaac Brock. And there is no better place to start than this album, because, ironically enough, it's still their most accessible release to date. Make of that what you will.