Good Music / Bad Music

Tag: We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

Modest Mouse – No One’s First and You’re Next

by on Oct.10, 2009, under Good Music

Modest Mouse has come a long way without having to water down their music or message. Modest Mouse has come a long way because it’s genuinely great music. They reeled in the indie rockers early on with a handful of simply produced, thin music with heart. They slowly unfolded into dimensions of space rock and more macabre offerings as on The Moon & Antarctica. By 2004, they were able to capture a commercial audience, while still maintaining positive critical reception, with Good News for People Who Love Bad News. And then, at last, with the release of We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, the boys hit number one on the Billboard charts. Truly a rags to riches story if ever there was one.

Their newest offering, No One’s First, and You’re Next is a collection of repolished, unreleased material from the sessions that produced those latter two, commercially strong releases. Though this disc is technically a collection of outtakes, it still feels like a whole new album. It also feels like something of a return to the wirey, gruff sound that defined everything before those commercially strong releases…with better mastering, of course.

So it’s as close to older Modest Mouse as we’ve had since newer Modest Mouse. Perhaps that’s why these tracks were kicked off the final versions of their prospective initial releases. They are not so much of an evolution of any aspect of the band’s talent. There is no major forward motion in the exploration of the sound. There is nothing that transcends the color of the last two discs. This is an acquired taste that takes several listens to fully explore and appreciate. For Modest Mouse purists, this is excellent news.

None of this is to imply that this is a formula they should always follow. Good News and We Were Dead are both fantastic releases. It’s just nice to know that, beyond their increasing grandeur, the band is still in touch with its core simplicity and frivolity. It is also still in touch with their sardonic nature. As usual, it’s a bit snide, but never tactless. It also carries a weird undertone of positivity, which is not new for Modest Mouse, and still difficult to pin down absolutely.

Generally more poetic than sentimental (or at least poetic about sentiment) Isaac Brock’s lyrics are primarily filled with subjective observation. He dives headlong into the ironies of human nature. “We all try harder as the days run out,” he reminds us on “Perpetual motion machine.” He determinedly explores the absurdity of adopting false ideals to fit in with one’s peers on the opening track, “Satellite Skin.” “Even crooks have to pay the rent,” he quips on “King Rat,” an apparent outtake from We Were Dead.

This release is a healthy one. First, it’s inexpensive, without sacrificing quality, since everything was already recorded. Additionally, it’s the kind of thing that allows the band to take a step back and press out all they have sitting around before moving on to the next step. Call it closure. From here, it’s tough to say what they will do next, but we can count on two things: 1) it will be good and 2) it will sound like Modest Mouse.

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