And now for an unusually short stroll down memory lane, with only one album to discuss… The sound of decades past.
Notable July 2009 release:
Modest Mouse – No One’s First, and You’re Next (EP)
This eight-song EP is essentially a short album (at 34 minutes), and a solid one at that. In addition to being the band’s only output between 2007’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank and 2015’s Strangers to Ourselves, it marks the end of the short but fruitful Johnny Marr era. The former Smiths guitarist appears on the six string on four tracks here as well as handling bass duties on “Autumn Beds”. The songs here are diverse, with Isaac’s trademark obscure and spastic vocals on “Guilty Cocker Spaniels” and “King Rat” to the more straightforward tracks like “Autumn Beds” and “I’ve Got It All (Most)”.
“Satellite Skin”, the only single from this work that I can recall hearing on terrestrial radio, kicks things off with a slow churn that builds as Isaac asks “how the heck do you think you can beat them, at the same time that you’re trying to be them!?!”. This is classic Modest Mouse and belongs on any eventual best-of compilation – PS, how does this band not yet have a best-of album? “Guilty Cocker Spaniels” slows things down considerably and allows for Mr. Brock to do his best speed mumble over some beautiful backing music.
“Autumn Beds” is a folky, mellow song centered around Isaac’s banjo picking yet still finds some distortion and electronic noise to fill in the mix. Perhaps the greatest musical achievement here is the six-minute instrumental “The Whale Song”, which teeters back and forth between moments of peaceful guitar play over a nice bassline and frenzied six-string wailing a la a distressed Humpback.
“Perpetual Motion Machine” is a terrific example of the greatness of Modest Mouse distilled into three minutes: Isaac gives us some social/human observation over music that is catchy and sounds uniquely old-timey. On “History Sticks to Your Feet” the things that we roll through our heads over and over are likened to the feeling of getting up after two hours sitting in the movie theater only to find that the sticky floor has your shoes stuck in place. Here is some classic Isaac for ya: “All those red marks on our shoulders, self back patting, homemade trophies… I’ve had enough with rolling boulders I want more moss on me”.
“King Rat” was a classic MM track that had been released only on some limited-edition fan club and record store giveaways and finally got a proper airing here. It is bizarre, slightly evil sounding, and has some badass horns. I’m not sure if the horn work is done by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (they appear on “Perpetual Motion Machine” and a few tracks on Good News for People Who Love Bad News…), but that wouldn’t surprise me.
Album closer “I’ve Got It All (Most)” is probably the least interesting song here, but even it is worth your time. The percussion provided by Ben Weikel is the carries the mail, but this line is pretty good too: “How can someone so consistently mess up as every instance? How can someone inconsistent mess up so consistently?”. I consider this the last great Modest Mouse release to date, and hope that the upcoming LP from one of my favorite bands brings the goods.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/4YvdAtWh6LlnIrv0qIqkCF?si=J7nmD8vpTrm5HVmlPpZrAA