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Vinyl Review: Modest Mouse “Strangers To Ourselves”

Modest Mouse

Strangers To Ourselves

Epic Records

Discogs 2xLP

Tour Dates

7.5/10

The new album from Modest Mouse, the band’s first release in a decade, was not love at first listen.

As I’ve written before, even though we now listen to music as independent selections–like a jukebox with 10,000 choices, the arrangement of songs on an album is still an important element for music enthusiasts. I love listening to a new album from start to finish. I treat it as the artist telling me a story or even a series of vignettes.

Modest Mouse starts off “Strangers to Ourselves” with the title track;  a song that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The music is slow, melancholy and off kilter. To me, it is a reflection of the band growing up and getting old in the music world.

The loss of songwriter and guitar player Johnny Marr appears to have created a void in the band. How big? I’m not sure as he was only with Modest Mouse for three years, but his absence can definitely be heard in the new album.

In 2011, rap artist Big Boi announced that he was in the studio with Modest Mouse helping them produce this album. In my opinion, it was not a good match. With respect to Big Boi, who’s brilliant in his own genre, the entry into uncharted waters proved to be too rocky. The song “Pistol” is a perfect example of what doesn’t work. The heavy rap influence combined with poor lyrical structure created the perfect storm for disaster.  Without “Pistol” this album would be a lot stronger. See for yourself:

“I’ve got my cocaine in the glove box now
the sunroof is down, oh wow!
ive got my room key in my pocket and you know
I got a pistol that I need to unload
I’m gonna T-T-T-T-T-T-take you on up, you say ‘what?!’

I’m gonna T-T-T-T-T-T-Take your shirt right on off, ohh
I wanna zip-zip-zip-zip-zip-zip-zip-zip your pants, on down
I’m gonna sip-sip-sip-sip-sip from my royal royal, royal crown.”

That’s great for Big Boi, but Modest Mouse? Come on, guys. Those lyrics come straight from Big Boi himself. It irks me as I have been a long time Modest Mouse listener. I grew up with this band. Ocean Breathes Salty, Dashboard, The Cold Part and Parting Of The Sensory are all brilliant songs! Nothing shy of musical genius.

I watched them perform last night on Jimmy Fallon and I liked what I saw. They featured two drummers and two piano players (one was a synthesizer); an interesting arrangement. I’m a huge fan of the double drum set. Double drummers are more common with metal bands, so to have it featured in an Indie band like Modest Mouse adds texture to their music.

Lampshades On Fire is arguably the most popular track on this album. It gets a lot of radio time and has been well received by the public. My personal favorite is “The Ground Walks, With a Time in a Box.” The melodic sound is classic Modest Mouse. It has that funky guitar rhythm that makes you want to jump out of your seat and dance around.

In my last post on Modest Mouse, I wrote that they had entered the “greatest hits years.” After listening to “Strangers to Ourselves,” I want to retract that statement. The band is still growing and progressing. The new album is magnetic music, beautifully crafted and well produced with plenty of angst.

The last song of the album, “Of Course We Know,” is the demo track I listened to before hearing the rest of the album. It now makes sense to me.. The lyrics “Lord lay down your own damn soul” and “of course we know” make sense. The song ends with the velvety sound of a viola fading into the dark; the music is now over. It’s as if they dropped a pebble into a pond, the ripples push further and further away…and now I want more.

– Rob Moran  Ω

Notable Tracks:

– The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box

– Shit In Your Cut

– The Tortoise And The Tourist

– God Is An Indian And Your An Asshole

 

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