Da Musically Inclined Bomb

DePauw University's First Year Seminar on Writing about Music

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Modest Mouse review

Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News

For this band's eighth CD in ten years, one might have hoped they'd grown up a bit. While generally this is not the case, by no means is this album a reason to give up on the band altogether.

For one, the vocals, although mediocre at best, are supported by curiously melodic instrumentals. And by instrumentals, I mean all instruments - yes, there is guitar, but also horns, piano, strings, and even an organ (during "Interlude"). These unique backups are mellow enough for an afternoon of studying, but also interesting enough to stand alone when focused upon.

Lyrically, the band has made progress - there are more words now than there were ten years ago to fill four minutes - but are largely by no means inspired. Too wacky to be righteous, and too amateur to be profound, the band members' choruses often exist of a single repeated line, or abstract couplets. Take the opening chorus of "Float On":

And we'll all float on ok
And we'll all float on ok
And we'll all float on ok
And we'll all float on any way well

Catchy? Yes. The stuff of legend? Hardly.

While the song set isn't terribly cohesive, it does get better as it goes on. The opener is a "Horn Intro", vaguely jazzy until an irreverent glissando. Following are "The World at Large" and "Float On", which manage to say enough to convince the listener that they have indeed said something. (What that is, exactly, is up for speculation.) In "The Ocean Breathes Salty", the listener can breathe easy with this poppy, bluesy, radio-worthy tune. The lyrics are still a bit insubstantial, but memorable enough to stay in your head in a good way. Next we get "Bury Me With It" after its thirteen second sitar-like intro, "Dig Your Grave". The verses make this song worthwhile, when the songwriter makes admirable steps toward candor. All hope looks lost in “Dance Hall”, which besides a catchy rhythm has few redeeming values. In a complete switch, hope is restored with “Bukowski”, even more poetically inclined and complemented nicely with agreeable instrumentals.

With that, the first half is ended, as we are reminded with a horn introduction to “This Devil’s Workday” so like the opening it brings déjà vu. As for the rest of this song, its best rationale is comic relief – but by now the album has grown on the listener, so this moment of silliness prompts a smile and a warmer anticipation for the remaining songs. As a good wine, the listener won’t be disappointed as the album comes to a close. Things definitely start to look up in “The View” (no pun intended) and continue through “Satin In A Coffin”; lyrics and melodies, respectively, improve until – after the hymn-like “Interlude” – a graceful climax is reached in “Blame It On The Tetons”. The crooning vocals and smooth jazz feel of the accompaniment achieve a respectable sincerity most indie bands strive for. In this gem of a song, all hope for the band’s future is resolvedly reaffirmed. The last three, “Black Cadillacs”, “One Chance” and “The Good Times Are Killing Me” pick up the pace and let some of the emotional heaviness go, but finish out sixteen tracks nicely.

The chorus of “Float On” is actually a good quote for the album as a whole. "Good News For People Who Love Bad News" - sung in the chorus of "Bury Me With It" - is a tad ironic, given the mellow, slightly whimsical tone and sound. "Float On" seems more appropriate, for this is what the band and album does. It’s never too depressing, but avoids the richness of emotional depth. While the lyricist is no Shakespeare, the melodies are musically satisfying, and speak eloquently to ten years’ development for Modest Mouse. So don’t despair. Fans will enjoy this for its quirks, and all can look forward to further installments. Modest Mouse will reach indie nirvana someday. After all, slow and steady wins the race.


Sources: AZ Lyrics, Wikipedia


At 9/03/2006 12:34 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

You were very thorough in describing the album. Even though the criticism was in abundance, you left the review with hope for the band, which I liked alot.

At 9/03/2006 1:35 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

I liked how for awhile the review left me guessing whether or not you liked this CD.

At 9/03/2006 4:25 PM, Blogger Becca said...

Well, yeah. I wanted to be unbiased, so I'm glad you weren't sure of my opinion. I asked a friend for something I'd heard of but never been exposed to, so as to do a proper review and everything. Since you were wondering, I'll tell you that it wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but that made it easier to criticize where necessary.

At 9/03/2006 4:39 PM, Blogger iheart-t-ravs said...

It was good that you were thorough in your critique, but it was a little lengthy for me. I did like how you portrayed the good and bad sides of the album and didn't show a bias.

At 9/03/2006 4:56 PM, Blogger Godfather Outlaw said...

I like how you laid out everything so nicely. "Catchy? Yes. The stuff of legend? Hardly." Thats a pretty cool line.

At 9/03/2006 5:03 PM, Blogger Kitt_Katt said...

I don't see how the same line repeated four times is catchy, but whatever. Yes, it was very long, too long for a review. Keep it shorter next time.

At 9/03/2006 8:45 PM, Blogger Vera Lynn Waters said...

Natalie, it is catchy. Anywho, Becca, nicely done. I was upset at the beginning when everything was being criticized so much but it was nice that you ended on such a polite note toward the band. I know you said that Modest Mouse isn't your cup of tea, but it's probably just because you haven't been drinking the same tea as Modest Mouse. They were acid eaters so really, their lyrics are probably more in depth than you saw but only because your insanity has never reached their level. A quote for you, "Insanity is merely the overacuteness of the senses."

At 9/03/2006 11:41 PM, Blogger Emily Rose said...

I loved this album. I understand some of your critiques, but it is the kind of music you cannot dig too far into to appreciate. Modest Mouse is a band that does not appeal to everyone, so it is okay that you have a lot criticisms. However, you should stick to what you say. Instead of telling people to go out and buy it, then you should not advocate the album. Stick to what you originally said. But, thanks for reviewing this album anyway, because I almost did.


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