6 August 2015

Modest Mouse - Strangers To Ourselves

At one point I did not think this album would be coming, so naturally I ignore it for months after it was released and review it late in the day.  Such is the way of things and not something I am apologising for, sometimes the mood has to be right when reviewing an album; I have found that with Modest Mouse there are times when they make my heart soar like it is floating to the heavens, sometimes they annoy me to my very bones and I have to hide their albums in my house in case I am tempted to sell them online.  They are that sort of band for me, I love and hate them in equal measure and they are one of those acts that I wrestle with in my mind a lot.  This is their first album since 2007 and their ground breaking ' We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank'; that was the album which featured journey man Johnny Marr, so in the UK it is the album they are best known for.  Whilst the band were recording this album, they actually recorded two albums worth of material; but according to Wikipedia (which is always a trust worthy source), some of these songs are still to be completed.  Whilst this album has been seven to eight years in the making, times and styles have changed; the world and audience they played to has changed; the album might be a glorious return, a good, solid record or something the album which spoils their legacy.

The intro to “Strangers To Ourselves” could not be more understated if it tried; the gentle bass guitar that pulses as the band slowly stir back into life, the gentle strings and percussions that permeates through the song as it sounds like a mournful lament to being forgetful and confessed.  It is a subtle and intriguing number that easies the audience into the album with a slow and methodical number, it does not explode or barrage through the door demanding your attention; it takes its time to introduce itself and it does reveal more beauty with each subsequent listen.  “Lampshades on Fire” is much more instant and has that familiar feeling which comes from Modest Mouse.  In the same sort of vein as “Fire It Up” from ‘We Were Dead….’ it feels familiar from the opening piano introduction.  It is not a song that just repeats past glories, it feel as original as ever – but all bands have styles that can be repeated throughout their career.  With a delicate percussion intro, the delightfully titled “Shit in Your Cut” comes on with a foul mood in the air and menace to match.  It is a decent number that keeps the song going at a steady pace, but it is not an immediate number; it does not grab your attention as other songs in their collection have done and whilst you do not expect every song to be mind-bending, it feels strange to have a song just drift by (especially when it is played so well).  “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)” feels like it has been wrote whilst taking a trip in the style of the protagonist in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson.  It is another confusing number because, even though it does not feel as sculpted as “Shit in Your Cut” – it grabs your attention and makes you listen.  It does not feel like it is apologising for being within your hearing; it grabs you by the throat and demand that you listen.  It is the most adventures number so far and it brings a dry smile to this listener.  The fifth track is called “Ansel”, it is another track which takes its time to show you what it is all about. The more you listen, the more it unveils to the listener; this is a song that needs patience and time, it will not show you all of its beauty straight away and will take its sweet time.  There is a line which goes ‘My father stayed patient with me; why? I don’t know’ – I have a feeling we are all going to have to be like the father if the first third of this album is anything to go by.

“The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box” comes next and this song has instant classic wrote all over it, the song has a disco beat underneath some clever indie riffs and vocals on top of it.  It once again sounds like a song that could have come from “We Were Dead….” and whilst it is longest number, it does not feel like it; you get lost in the tune and it is so catchy that you really do not care how long it plays for.  It has a little break down towards the end which sound like it could have be used in an 80’s detective comedy movie – just a fun track for this album.  “Coyotes” is a song about the plight of coyotes and how they are being hunted by their greatest threat (as well as the rest of the environment) – mankind.  I love the emptiness to the music (bear with me).  It does not have much going on in the song for the best percentage of the number, it feels like you could be out in the forest or woods and that it is near the end of the year.  It has an autumnal (or fall for our American cousins) feeling, the winter is just around the corner and this song has that similar mood.  A beautiful and thought provoking song.  “Pups To Dust” is the eighth song this album and it takes a while to get going, but once it gets going it hits all those spots which Modest Mouse call their own; the lyrics about life and the how we change, an uplifting chorus and a simple riff which lingers; it is very good, but not as essential as other tracks on the record.  With falling piano notes, a tuba and the sound akin to a fairground “Sugar Boats” seems to carry on part of the theme of “Pups To Dust” and the worrying about death which is coming to us all. It feels like a carnival is happening but something is going wrong in the background.  It is another song that is well played, but I am not seeing the point of it being on the album; but I will get to my reasoning later on in the review. “Wicked Campaign” is the song which ends the second third of this album – with electronic percussions to start the song, the band have unearthed their inner New Order feeling here; some people would say that it is more The Killers, but they were just a glorified New Order tribute from the desert.  Once again, I would not fault the performance of the band as (throughout this album) they do not do anything specifically wrong; I just find myself drifting more than I feel I should be and this is not a good sign overall.

“Be Brave” on the other hand is much more immediate and attention grabbing, sinister seems to be working really well when this album is concerned and it adds something to the record.  They are in strutting mode here and this song seems to be pointing out that the world does not give a shit and there is an exacerbated feeling to the song.  It is something that I can relate to, but it is also a stunning number which came at the right time for this album.  “God Is An Indian & You’re An Arsehole” starts with backwards guitars and becomes a campfire sing-a-long; it is over in just over a minute and whilst it is fun – why was it included?  Anyway, “The Tortoise & The Tourist” is another song which is hinting at thoughts about the environment and the future of the planet; once more I can appreciate the sentiment that is being delivered on this song, but the song is no better or worse than anything else that has preceded this song on the album – beautifully played, but not a song that makes a difference to the album.  The penultimate song is called “The Best Room” and it does take its time to make an impression; but it is worth it in this case.  The first few listens it just passed me by (maybe because there is a lot of music on this album to digest), but it is a gentle reminder of what the band do best – it just takes a little while to get there but once it does, you will appreciate the effort you took to get into the song.  Ending the album is the funeral march that is “Of Course We Know” which ends the album on a dower note; basically the world has gone to shit and this is the tune to take us to the end.  Even though it is depressing as hell, I love it – it is one of the gems in this album and I wish there was more tracks of this standard on this album.

I never thought I would write this about Modest Mouse, but this is plain average by their standards.  There is a little growth since their last album and considering the time that they have been away, you would have thought that there would have been at least something.  Also, they have lost the ability to remove the dead wood and filler tracks on this album; it is at least five tracks too heavy and would have improved it immensely.  I know normally this is not a problem, but on this album it just seems to drag it down so much.  It is not a bad album either, I do not think that Modest Mouse are capable of such a thing – it is just a very average album and that is something that I would not expect from Modest Mouse. Some people have said that the track individually are more important that the whole, I do not see that.  All I see is that the individual tracks do not all stand up enough to make the whole anything apart from slightly disappointing.

5 out of ten - It could have been a bit better

Top track – Be Brave
You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Modest Mouse website here

You can stream the album from Spotify here

You can stream the album on Deezer here

You can stream the album from Tidal here

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