I don’t like Modest Mouse.
Now, I understand that this is tantamount to standing up at an atheist convention and screaming Halleluiah, especially in the realm of what has become our rather rarified taste here on the Muso. I also am fully aware that all the hype and praise that has been showered upon them since their ’96 debut is not just hot air and far more likely that something defunct in my musical taste has left me indifferent to one of the most established indie acts of our day. Albums have come and gone and never hooked me into the hyperbolic adoration that seems a signature of their fans. So perhaps I am not qualified to review their newest offering, but then again when have we ever worried about qualifications before offering an opinion?
With that rather verbose disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to the topic at hand: We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. The reason I included some detail on my history with Modest Mouse is that I now feel profound regret at not giving them more of a chance. I have clearly missed out on a lot. We were dead is an exceptional example of the genre we call home and a front runner for my album of the year, it slots so sweetly into our obscure taste that it is a wonder I don’t own their entire back catalogue.
I am well aware that since their Sony music signing in 2000 they have garnered much popular success (although none in this country) and there might be an element of their attempt to master the billboard charts that has allowed the sound to be accessible to previous unbelievers like me. I do feel that MM have managed this feat without compromising their flair for experimentation and unusual composition. Whatever the reason, the result is compelling. With a varied mix of style, guitars that seemed to have been reigned in and a greater level of constraint on vocals Modest Mouse have cleaned up what I have always perceived to be messy band play (however inspired it may have been) into a crisp, tight album. The unfortunate result of this is that long time listeners will find many parts of the album slowing to a rather lacklustre tempo and a few phases of the album that tend towards the bland. Perhaps some of the colour has leaked out but it is a far cry from the monochrome attempts of some of their counterparts.
I always feel that hooks into an album (tracks that lead you easily into full album listening) are often a good measure of how accessible the album feels (something that is always a problem with the type of music we listen to). We Were Dead has more openings than a Mexican cave system with every song welcoming you and inviting you to explore the next few tracks; as a result I have listened to the album from different starting points over a dozen times and the experience is still improving. There is something here for everyone, a statement that is rarely made of a veteran band of indie rockers.