Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank

Modest Mouse
We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (Epic)
Grade: B+

Upon listening to We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, I realized that Modest Mouse, when at their best, lull me into sleepy submission. While I love their punch-drunk, slap-happy, Brock-goes-batshit tracks as much as the next guy, there's something about quieter songs like "The World At Large" and "3rd Planet" that exist in their own universe. You're sucked in completely from the first note.

The new record has plenty of those moments, as well as some barnstormers, which means it's a pretty typical Modest Mouse record. And while this one doesn't top their mainstream (if not artistic) breakthrough Good News For People Who Like Bad News, it brings the band one step closer to aging gracefully.

This is a Modest Mouse record with better eyesight; a good set of indie songs with louder and cleaner production than the band's fans are used to. Lead single "Dashboard" is a bit shameless in its "Float On" imitation, and the horns don't really do it any favors, either. But this is still a Modest Mouse record, which means Isaac Brock is still one wacked-out motherfucker, yelling so loud you can picture him flailing his arms. We Were Dead's first track, "March Into The Sea," starts with an arrangement that hints at a band who has scaled back its sound, but then it explodes, and Brock is screaming "clang clang clang!!" and you're comforted by the fact that your favorite band hasn't changed.

The contribution of Johnny Marr, ex-Smith and the newest Modest Mouse member, is subtle but telling. The reverb-heavy guitar lines on "Parting Of The Sensory" seem like they couldn't have come from anyone else, and they provide the perfect confusion before the song bursts into a hoedown, with Brock singing (I think), "Someday you will die and someone or something will steal your coffin." This sudden genre transformation is a neat trick, and this disc is full of these moments.

My favorite track might be "Missed The Boat," definitely the most "normal" song here, a midtempo acoustic number that gives the record some breathing room. The chorus features The Shins' James Mercer, and it's a perfect collaboration, both because Brock and Mercer complement each other nicely, but also because the song suits Mercer's passionately laid-back delivery.

As for that sleepy submission moment, it happens on "People As Places As People," and while it's a little slicker in sound than "3rd Planet" or "The World At Large," it works the band's old magic. You might even close your eyes, until Brock starts barking a dog, and you'll wake up and realize that what you're listening to isn't built for sleep. It's Modest Mouse.

(David Brusie)



Blogger Jon said...

I too was working on a review of this album, and I pretty much thought the exact same thing and awarded it the exact same grade (cue twilight zone theme) No mention of "Spitting Venom" though? That's my favorite track, easily.

8:40 AM  
Blogger David said...

Jon, you're totally right about "Spitting Venom." It's awesome.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous April said...

I just listened to this whole album and realized I only heard about half of it.

I'm not so happy about that.

Totally agree about "Spitting Venom," though.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

too busy listening to Call Me Lightning to care!!! Yaha ahahaa!

7:39 PM  
Blogger SideshowSkut said...

"I just listened to this whole album and realized I only heard about half of it."

The same thing happened on my first listen.

7:58 AM  

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