Review Summary: Modest Mouse try to be different and unique, but end up getting lost in the process.
There’s a fine line between being original and just plain odd, and distinguishing the two is a hard task, especially when it comes to music. There are so many ways that music is subjective, that the strangest and abstract sounds can be categorized as profound. In the ever-growing music scene, bands have so many different directions to take their music that even if the music isn’t all that good, they can hide behind their lack of songwriting if they have enough windchimes in the recording. What’s frustrating for critics is that even if when debunked, calling music out on its mediocrity is viewed as not appreciating it since it’s so different. Now of course this is only in rare cases, the music that I enjoy the most is unconventional and different to a degree. But it’s necessary to distinguish what is original and what is weird for the sake of being weird. Unfortunately I find one of these latter groups to be Modest Mouse, or at least their 2006 album We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank.
The premise of We Were Dead…
’s overall sound is a little hard to pinpoint; eclectic sailor music? When I hear that description, I would hope for some jaunty, yet overall peaceful music, but that is usually the opposite of what Modest Mouse gives me. A lot of the musical elements go in opposite paths, which ends up leaving both in disarray. The drumming has a very jagged and bombastic edge to it, which really doesn’t compliment the other instruments. The guitars on most songs are very gently played and the band fiddles around with different brass and experimental instruments. The melody and rhythm sections rarely ever correlate, and the album usually becomes a chore to listen to because of this.
When also thinking about the term eclectic sailor music, the voice of which is singing should probably be one to simulate a sailor or pirate. Lead vocalist Isaac Brock fits the bill quite perfectly, but I don’t really think that’s a good thing. He has a very angry, course tone to his voice, which might compliment the loud and bashful drumming, but not much else. Whenever he’s not yelling, he is constantly trying to croon or drone in a very odd and bad way, which proves that at least on this record, he’s out of his element. Most of the songs are constantly too rough to be pleasurable, with the drums banging in an obnoxious way, and Brock trying to achieve artistic virtuosity by sounding like an annoyed gorilla. This all becomes downright annoying since the album is so long, clocking in at over an hour.
Now the reason I assume Modest Mouse are trying to be different for the sake of being different is because whenever they stop trying to be different, they actually make good music. The best songs on We Were Dead…
are ones that are the most conventional. Lead single Dashboard
features brass and classical instrumentation leading most of the song and actually sounds like eclectic sailor music. Little Motel
is a very peaceful tune that accentuates its simplicity in a wonderful way. Even the 8 minute epic Spitting Venom
builds upon layers of melody instead of just bashing rhythmically its duration. The album is also at its highpoint when Brock forgets being strange and just sings. He has a very unique tone even when he’s not shouting and yelling, and it’s a shame he didn’t realize this more.
We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
is an unfortunately messy listen. The rhythm and singing sections bog the album down by failing to be unique and original, and end up being loud and annoying. The melody section boosts the album up a little by remembering that quality can be achieved by simply writing good songs. It’s a shame the album is so incoherent, because Modest Mouse have enough quirks and originality in their sound without all the shouting and banging antics. In retrospect, Modest Mouse may not be a band that tries to be overtly strange, but on this album, they accidentally are anyways.
Missed The Boat