Modest Mouse’s new album a disappointment

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Isaac Brock recently released a Modest Mouse album. Eight years of touring and slowly gathering material culminated with  “Strangers to Ourselves” in March. The album was concocted from a broader collection of recordings and ideas, the remainder of which might be released in the near future. Given the content of the album, what’s left in the storehouse is certainly questionable.

Modest Mouse started as a trio in the early 90s with Brock as lead guitar and vocalist, Eric Judy on bass and Jeremiah Green on drums. The three worked together marvelously, birthing a distinct breed of alternative music that is often associated with burnouts and teenagers self-diagnosed as clinically depressed. During my larval pubescent years the mix of nostalgic twang, rock and offensive angst managed to latch onto my psyche in a special way.

Between the few albums released since then, my attachment to the music has waned. This is due as much to my growth away from the modes of thinking that caused me to relate with Brock’s whiney prattle, as to his declining ability to produce such noise sincerely. What’s worse, Judy has left and his melodic bass playing has been replaced with what sounds like the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea.

The first single from the album released was “Lamp Shades on Fire,” a shameless party anthem that insists Brock and his peers, the ubiquitous “us” and “we” he speaks for throughout the album, are trapped in a cycle of partying in which they “make the same mistakes.” It’s fitting then that this track in particular exemplifies the negative attributes pervading the album – repetition and obnoxious lyrical content.

The associated music video is the laziest thing I have seen recently, a collage of partiers with Brock and his background dancers occasionally on display and some artsy face-painting scenes to please the hippies. The video features brazen urination, pot smoking and a cat thrown from a balcony.

Lyrically, it seems Brock is either genuinely expressing himself or snidely speaking from the perspective of someone who generalizes and looks down on others. In either case, the behavior on display is glorified, as it is either endorsed by Brock and company, or acknowledged as normal and thus contemptible.

About a third of the way into the album with the second single “Coyotes,” the message moves away from partying and becomes a depressed hole of self-pity. From there the music is little more than phrases, licks and tones recycled in part or whole from Modest Mouse’s past. Surprisingly, I found this second act to be moderately redemptive. There are several good examples of the group’s musical abilities and one or two lyrics that stand out, seemingly inspired by thought rather than money.

However, the enjoyable parts of “Strangers to Ourselves” are buried in the refuse of house parties. There’s a point when a name should be retired, but Modest Mouse will likely continue to make music so long as Brock has the mental faculties to spew negativity.

Longtime fans might find something to enjoy in this album, but it takes some mental discipline to not feel burned.