Humble mouse, we were dead before the ship even sank

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graphic: Natalie Peeples

For years, Pacific Northwest indie band Modest Mouse made a living making complicated, weird rock. Few, including the band themselves, likely imagined the same group that made 1997 whimsical The lonely crowded West would end up becoming a Grammy-nominated stadium act. So when Modest Mouse landed a massive mainstream hit with “Float On” – and did exactly that – it was a surprising result.

Good news for people who love bad news marked the beginning of Modest Mouse’s divisive turn from experimental mid-tier indie band to global name. With this rising popularity, there was greater pressure to create a follow-up that would build on the success of Good news and appeal to new fans without upsetting those who have followed the band – and their former lo-fi, rough-edged sound – since their early days.

with We were dead before the ship Even sank, Modest Mouse lived up to those expectations. Frontman Isaac Brock didn’t attempt to write the next “Float On,” instead continuing to approach his songwriting with the same complicated mentality as before. And while the album is as polished as Good newsit still contains a lot of experimentation. ship became the album that proved that while Modest Mouse’s fanbase and sound have changed, it didn’t have to compromise the innate quirkiness that made it such an exciting act in the first place – and it remains the band’s finest release after “Float On”. .

However, the work on this album did not initially go smoothly. Guitarist Dann Gallucci quit mid-tour for the previous record. But frontman Isaac Brock decided to reach for the stars — and invited former The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to co-write and play guitar ship. Marr accepted, and this unexpected combination proved brilliant, sparking a creative breakthrough for both camps, with Modest Mouse and the famed guitarist creating music that felt unlike anything either had worked on before. (Marr was only supposed to record with Modest Mouse for ten daysbut the chemistry with the band was so intense that the guitarist canceled his return flight to England to stay in Portland and later tour as the band’s guitarist.)

what does ship In addition to the recording of Marr, the group’s commitment to the theme of the record is outstanding. The LP, once described by Brock as a “nautical balalaika carnival tour,” has reportedly been released Originally intended as a concept album about a boat crew who dies in every song. The concept didn’t quite work, but the theme allowed the band to incorporate a broader array of instruments that conveyed the feel of life at sea, including accordion, banjo and horns.

ship begins with “March Into The Sea,” a track that takes on a sea shanty-inspired style. The first instrument heard is the accordion, conjuring up images of being on board a pirate ship. Brock takes it a step further by singing in the punctuated manner of sea shanties, but instead of making the intonation melodic, he alternates between lighthearted singing and a sleapier growl.

After “March” introduces the concept of the album in a very direct way, it’s the next song, “Dashboard”, that really serves as a pathway into the record. Chosen as the first single, it’s a bubbly song that has a lot more going on than just “‘Float On’ but with horns”.

On first listen, it doesn’t sound particularly like something you’d expect from Modest Mouse. But soon Brock’s distinctive vocals and signature sense of humor shine through. Brock references Planes, trains and cars— ironically the movie about almost every mode of transportation that isn’t a ship — throughout the song: “The dash melted, but we still have the radio.” “Well, the windshield was broken, but I love the fresh air, you know.” She. Musically it’s very different, but thematically it feels like a backing track to “Float On”: Even when things suck, you gotta keep going.

The band balances their moments of experimentation with a still-rediscovered popier approach to songs, switching styles every few tracks or so. “Dashboard” is followed by “Fire It Up”, the closest in sound to “Float On” but without the infectious hook that made for such a big hit. The focus is on Brock’s vocals rather than the instruments, showing the frontman’s range as he transitions from a growl to a coo.

Then there’s “Florida,” the middle ground between the signature Modest Mouse and the band’s new, more approachable sound. Brock’s vocals are erratic, with a busy sing-talk approach. But that’s cleverly contrasted by The Shins frontman James Mercer handling backing vocals, giving the song a smooth, warm edge. (His vocals also appear on “We’ve Got Everything” and “Missed The Boat.”) It’s one of the band’s most complex tracks, shifting from pop to dark. This complexity is also present in his lyrics, which were quickly spat out by Brock (“Though we often wondered / It was no wonder the shit that flew out of our minds”).

But the dark horse on the album is “Parting Of The Sensory”. It’s not the most popular track by ship, but it is perhaps the most impressive. Parting Of The Sensory is one of Modest Mouse’s most experimental works, using a combination of traditional instrumentation – fiddle, banjo, balalaika and Marr on guitar – and otherworldly synthesizer effects to produce a stunning result (with album producer Dennis Herring and musicians Naheed Simjee clapping and stomping). The words are nihilistic: “One day you’re going to die somehow and something is going to steal your carbon.” But the lyrical darkness is all but drowned out with a chorus so catchy.

It’s a hard song to top, but Modest Mouse follows up with another that ranks among the best of the band’s career: “Missed The Boat.” It features some of Brock’s strongest songwriting with clever, attention-grabbing lyrics (“While we’re on the subject / Could we change the subject now? / I knocked on your ear door / But you were always outside.”)

It’s open to interpretation. It works like a breakup song about pretending everything is okay while still grappling with the pain of your breakup (“Was it ever worth it? / Was it so much to gain? / Well, we knew we missed the connection / And we already missed the plane”). But it also fits as an auto-critic, with Brock seemingly acknowledging that while the band’s success looks great on the outside, “leveling up” isn’t all it’s supposed to be (“Oh, and we carried it so well / As if we get a new job /Oh, and I’m laughing my ass off/ and say, ‘Yeah, that’s a good promotion.'”) It’s one of the stripped-down songs on the record, and that’s maybe what works best about it .

The same goes for “Little Motel,” another number that lets Brock’s voice and words shine without relying on the bells and whistles (literally in this case) of instrumentation. It’s a song that doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the album – it’s too mellow compared to everything around it – but it’s so great it’s hard to imagine ship without it.

The song, written by Brock after a fight with his partner, is one of the most compelling of the band’s entire career. That’s thanks in part to Marr, whom Brock credited with “saving the song” with the “sparkling, one-string stuff.” And getting personal in an unusual way for him, Brock’s lyrical vulnerability brings wonderful depth to the song: “We treat breakdowns like sinking ships and / I know I don’t want to be out there drifting / Well I can see it your eyes like I’m tasting your lips and / They both tell me we’re better than that.”

However, Brock doesn’t seem comfortable in these quieter moments. “Little Motel” is immediately followed by some of the most guitar-heavy songs on the record: “Stream Engenius” and “Spitting Venom”. The latter succeeds above all; What begins as a simple acoustic track steadily morphs into an electric guitar-focused, angsty number brimming with aggression. While its lyrics often vacillate vaguely, “Spitting Venom” includes heartbreakingly literal details: “Well, we walked downtown and sat in the rain / Well, looked every which way and waited for a train / Thinking / It’s all over. ” It is further evidence that some of shipThe best highlights of are the emotionally charged songs, where Brock lets it all out.

Modest Mouse closes the album with two of his poppiest tracks: “People As Places As People” and “Invisible”. But even these lighter moments are never free from Modest Mouse’s rudeness; Brock often combines the brightest riffs with his most aggressive vocals.

We were dead before the ship even sank may not have been received by many longtime fans upon its release in 2007; just The AV Club‘s former collaborator Katie Rife once wrote that it was the album that made her stop listening to Modest Mouse at all. But with a big label like Epic behind them, there was no way the band could go back to their DIY approach; instead of this, ship allowed the band to push the limits of their oddities while making music that was accessible. Looking back almost two decades later, ship seems like Modest Mouse has something to prove – to show the breadth of his talents and refuse to let “Float On” dictate his career.

https://www.avclub.com/modest-mouse-we-were-dead-before-the-ship-even-sank-1848743589 Humble mouse, we were dead before the ship even sank

Andrew Schnitker

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