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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Modest Mouse: Strangers to Ourselves (Release Date: 3-17-2015)

        "We're getting old, Collin."

        These were the words that came out of my friend's mouth when I hazily recalled that Modest Mouse's break-through single Float On met the world in the year 2004 (February 14th, for the record). It's not uncommon to hear people say things like, "I love Modest Mouse, but not their new stuff," the kind of sentiment that ignores just how long it's been since said heyday existed. The gentle, nihilistic, indier-than-indie version of the band has been gone for at least a decade now, ushered out on the coat-tails of that aforementioned shooting star, if not a touch sooner. Strangers to Ourselves, the outfit's first LP in eight years, does everything it can to double-down on what's essentially the six-piece's second act; those with no use for the power chords and crisp production that define the last decade of MM will have nothing to latch on to here, and might as well stop reading, and chalk this one up as a loss. If your faith has remained unwavering, I'd stick around.

        Strangers opens with a one-two punch that perhaps knowingly harkens back to the pair of tracks that greeted us on their mainstream breakthrough Good News For People Who Love Bad News; The title track floats about weightlessly in a manner that recalls The World At Large, while the jaunty, radio-ready Lampshades on Fire is clearly gunning for Float On, if not their subsequent album's lead single Dashboard. In other words, we're about six and a half minutes into the band's new release before the parameters are all but set. Strangers is by no means a bad album, but it is one rife with limitations and predictability, a curious result given the LP's near-decade gestation period. As an admitted fan, there are far worse things to listen to than a new Modest Mouse record, but everything here files neatly into three categories: Enjoyable Retreads of Past Favorites (Sugar Boats/Dance Hall) (The Best Room/Bury Me With It), Less Enjoyable Retreads of Past Favorites (Coyotes/Blame it on the Tetons) (The Tortoise and the Tourist/March Into the Sea), and finally Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996), a miss-fire so wrong-headed and obnoxious that true analysis would be a waste of time. You know those check marks on your itunes that allow you to automatically skip a song each time if simply unchecked? That feature was designed for Pistol.

        As strange as this might sound, one of my favorite aspects of the album is vocalist Issac Brock's relentless pessimism in the face of his mounting years. Most artists who knowingly slip into the second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) stage of their careers make some sort of semi-believable stab at hard-earned optimism, but Brock, now over two decades into his stint as Modest Mouse's leading man, simply can't find any room to let the sun shine in. The 39-year-old responsible for lines like, "I'm trying to drink away the part of the day that I cannot sleep away," and recording songs entitled Talking Shit About a Pretty SunsetDark Center of the Universe, and Alone Down There, is still alive and well, as witnessed on scummy Shit in Your Cut, nihilistic Pups to Dust, and album standout Ansel. The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box might not reach such heights of negativity, but its surreal lyrics make it a standout in Brock's longwinded lyrical canon.

        The difficulty behind writing this particular album review derives not from the indescribable, but from the readily described. Some folks never want to see shade thrown on Modest Mouse, no matter the circumstance; others find it near impossible to give their post-The Lonesome Crowded West career even the slightest of passes. Both sides will find ample fodder within Strangers. It'd be remiss of me to place this album on even keel with past MM triumphs, but that's the fan in me talking, and the aforementioned Lampshades, Ansel, Ground Walks, Sugar Boats, and Best Room show the collective in fine form. If you're waiting around for another The Moon Over Antarctica, there's not much to see here, but if you've loved this band for as long as you remember, and never jumped ship when Johnny Marr boarded, Strangers to Ourselves deserves a listen.

Grade: B

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