Modest Mouse: A Retrospective

By Aidan Connelly

I remember the first time Modest Mouse popped into my world. I was nine years old and they were on TV, accepting some award for what I remember to be the VMAs. To my left was my mother, making some comment about their name, and to the right was my sister, cooly passive. “This is the band I’ve been telling you about,” she said. She knew all about them, because after all, they played in a club on an episode of The O.C.

The point I’m trying to get across is that Modest Mouse’s transformation from underground gems to indie-rock diplomats of the pop world is arguably just as important a step as their founding. It made them a household name (sort of), and brought indie rock to the forefront of the rock-music world for the next few years. Sure, neither Good News For People Who Love Bad News nor We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank evoke quite the same sense of purpose and beauty as their previous albums did, but when a band as great as Modest Mouse puts out five or so records, every release counts. In that spirit, here’s a retrospective glance at how far they’ve come, and where they’ve been.

This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About

Of all the die-hard Modest Mouse fans I’ve met, most of their favorite songs are one of the sixteen this record. For me, it’s “Dramamine.”

(Side note: Did you know Isaac Brock was nineteen when this album was released? That’s crazy).

The Lonesome Crowded West

What’s great about The Lonesome Crowded West is goddamn polarized it is. For every raw, brutal track like “Convenient Parking,” there’s a melodic and introspective one like “Bankrupt on Selling.” It’s not nearly as mature or existential as its successor, though I’d argue it’s a more enjoyable project in part because of that. Then again, maybe that’s just the fifteen-year-old me who played “Trailer Trash” on a loop.

The Moon and Antarctica

Of the three albums Modest Mouse released in the 2000s, this was the one that made all the end-of-decade lists. A their major label debut, it’s as sprawling and bare as both the landscapes they named it after. It takes a special kind of talent to write a two-minute song that’s equally as powerful as the nine-minute one that came right before it.

Good News For People Who Love Bad News

Despite the fact that The Moon and Antarctica was their first major label release, let’s acknowledge that Modest Mouse didn’t actually grip hold of a mainstream sound until 2004’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News. In retrospect, Good News was a valiant attempt to fuse their pessimistic/ gritty-core with a polished, post-punk sound—even if it had that four-song sag of misguided in the middle. And it worked, because they were able to match their lyrics to their new sound, sprinkling in a sense of half-hearted optimism. For an example, look no farther than “The View,” where Brock sings “as life gets longer, awful feels softer/ Well, it feels pretty soft to me.”

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

We Were Dead turned out to be a lot like Good News, right down to the original packaging. But if we’re comparing singles, “Dashboard” is a lot more exciting a song that “Float On.” “Missed the Boat” might be the most straightforward pop song to the band’s name, and that has nothing to do with the fact that The Shins frontman James Mercer sings backup vocals.

So where did the music go? We’re already halfway through with this new decade, and the best we’ve been able to get in terms of new material is a few low-quality cell phone recordings of songs. I, for one, have faith in Isaac Brock. If we’re getting a new Modest Mouse record, it’s going to be a good Modest Modest record. At this point it’s probably too late to land them a second spot on The O.C., but I’ll take what I can get.

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