Review Summary: ''They gave me a receipt that said I didn't buy nothin'!''
Something a bit magical happens when you travel to a new and distant locale. The different air, water, people, culture, nature, languages, and living spaces mix up internally, swirling to an intoxicating boil that doesn't quite wear off until you've left. You find something new to love about the world; you discover a part of yourself that you thought only existed in imagination. In the best cases, you learn to open up and accept life as it comes. You learn to love. The best cases, though, are not always possible.
Sometimes, you struggle to cope, like a sick animal cut loose into an unfamiliar environment. The intoxication is not a merry one, but a churning, desperate, seasick one. The language barrier is loneliness. You can't express yourself. You can barely speak a word to those you desperately want to get to know. The climate is suffocating. You drip sweat and breathe salt. The living space is alienating. You can't sleep, can't think, can't even *** correctly. You miss everyone and everything you took for granted. The future is awash, bleached in the challeneges of the present.
If it isn't apparent by this point, I love to travel. I do it quite often. Despite being quite young, I live and study an ocean away from my family, setting aside two weeks at Christmas to unite with them, before I orbit away again. I miss them, but as long as I know they are healthy and safe I can deal with it. I am blessed enough to have the financial and personal freedom to live how I choose. I wouldn't have it any other way. Why do I bring up my petty thoughts on travel, love, and loneliness in an indie rock album review? Why am I wasting so much space with this? It's because I find Modest Mouse's seminal 2001 record 'The Moon and Antarctica' beautifully, terrifyingly relevant to these feelings and experiences. This album, to me, is an album about alienation, uncertainty, and loneliness, which are emotions I experience most strongly when I am travelling in a locale where I feel very foreign and unwelcome.
´We´re going down the road / Towards tiny cities made of ashes / I'm gonna punch you in the face / I'm gonna hit you in the glasses / Oh no!'
You turn back to the bus window, looking at the dilapitated village passing by. The air is thick and hot, the people are obviously poor and don't live in the best sanitary conditions, but they seem happy- happier than you at least. You just got ripped off by the bus driver big time. $50? The tickets should have been $2! You can't believe your stupidity.
´Does anybody know a way that a body could get away?'
Isaac Brock's voice squaks over a throbbing, nervous bassline. His words are desperate, pained, and crackling with energy. The instruments behind him are a train, taking poor Isaac to whatever nightmarish location he unwillingly is in possession of a ticket for.
You check your iPod: this is track 5: 'Tiny Cities Made of Ashes.' Pretty catchy.
'Everything will fall / Fall right into place'
Okay, hold on, maybe things arne't so bad. You've just walked up to your hotel room. You have a beautiful- no, STUNNING view of the Pacific. You miss your friends, sure, but this place is fantastic. The guitars are strummed- warm and soothing, and Brock's voice floats above them, mimicking the breeze through your window. This stuff is great, though it sounds familiar- maybe you heard it in a car commercial somewhere? You look down: track 2: 'Gravity Rides Everything.' Indeed.
You're fast in bed, slowly floating off to the land of the sleeping. These songs are beautiful, but they sure are downers. Violins cry out in loneliness. The arrangements are sparse. The vocals are processed and vaguely threatening.
'So long to this cold, cold part of the world'
Cold? Well, this part of the world is quite warm, and I'm not going anywhere else for a while, but whatever you say, dude.
You're nearly dreaming when another voice jerks you out of your slumber:
'And the stars are projectors, yeah / Projecting our lives down to this planet Earth'
Now THAT'S a terrifying thought- all of your experiences, thoughts, feelings, friends, family- mere projections. Like Plato and that cave. Except you can't get out of the cave. You're doomed to bask in the shadows. Strings and guitars bend hauntingly around Brock's musings. This is a bit dark, but really great music. Which song? Track 9- The Stars are Projectors. Wow, and it's a long one! Over eight and a half minutes! Kids these days...
'Right-wing, left-wing, chicken wing!'
Ain't that the truth.
You're out hiking through the mountains, trusty iPod in tow. You admire the vistas as you walk. It's beautiful. Peaceful, too. You feel at home here. Track 10 comes up: 'Wild Packs of Family Dogs.' Interesting name.
'Right after I die / The dogs start floating up toward the glowing sky / Now they will receive their reward'
If you've heard correctly, the vocalist has just described watching him and his family slaughtered by a pack of wild dogs with utter indifference. How's THAT for disillusionment and detachment? It's a good song though- simple, for sure, but good. A lone guitar strums away aimlessly. Ohh, is that an accordian? It's- huh? It's already over?
'It takes a long time, but God dies too / But not before he'll stick it to you / I don't know, but I've been told / You'll never die, you'll never grow old'
Whoah, is this Nirvana? That guitar line sounds like a rework of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' to your ears. Oh well; it's catchy. Alarmingly so. You hit repeat.
...Wow, that girl over there is beautiful. Dark hair, dark eyes, a dazzling smile. She's nice. I'm sure she's nice. You're not so bad yourself. Maybe you could go over and buy her a drink? Ask her out? Nah, too bold. You'd be happy just to sit and talk to her for a while. You stand up, and then quickly sit back down. You almost forgot. No one else here speaks English. You'd sound like a buffoon trying to chat her up in your broken Spanish. You look down, dejected, at your gin and tonic. Wait, gin and tonic? Doesn't ordering that mean you're gay or something? Whatever. It tastes good. You're secure enough to order whatever drink you please.
'It's hard to remember / It's hard to remember to live / Before you die'
Hmm, this is another great song. There's something sagelike in these lyrics, as blunt as they are. Maybe we all need to relax a bit and enjoy life as it comes. That guitar line is beautiful: so uplifting. I thought this song was moving at a much slower pace just a minute ago? No matter. Ohh, there are those violins again. Que lindo! Hmm, it's track 13- 'Lives'. Simple enough.
You're back in your hotel room- it's been a week here in this new, beautiful, fascinating country, and you've been spinning The Moon and Antarctica nonstop. It's the soundtrack to your trip, and you wouldn't have it any other way. You turn to your favourite track- number 14, 'Life Like Weeds.' The guitars dance playfully as Isaac Brock lays his case bare:
'And on the day that you die / You'll see the people you met / I could have told you all that I love you!'
You lower your eyes. You miss your friends and family. Ohh, the violins again! It's getting to the good part...
'I know where you're from / But where do you belong?'
Good question. You guess that you belong where you are, since that's the only space that you can occupy at this point in time in the known universe. Wait, yeah, the guitars just kicked in! They rock, but in a frustrated sort of way, cutting through the dark tone set by the other instruments.
'All this talk and all the time in the air fills up, up, up, until there's nothing left to breathe'
The guitars and violins are downright terrifying. They sigh, cry, and beg for understanding. There's nothing left for them. You look up at the moon. the powerless, cold, lonely moon. You, for a few moments, feel as distant as it is. You begin to cry. The song fades out, leaving you with those chilling, chilling guitar groans.
You're on the plane back now, and you've turned, yet again, to Modest Mouse. This record is fast becoming a new favourite, but you still don't quite get the last track- 'What People Are Made of.' It seems like such an odd, disjointed, misanthropic way to end the album.
'(Human beings) ain't nothing but water and ***!'
Christ. As disillusioned as you feel sometimes, that's not something you can relate to. The guitar, bass, and drums pound together in a fury as the album closes. You personally think ´Life Like Weeds´ would have fit better as a closer. Whatever. Still an awesome record.
You look out the window at the sea. The digital map on back of the seat in front of you tells you that there are only nine more hours until you're back home, telling friends and family all about your adventure. Have you changed? Are you different for it? Better? The opening twangs of '3rd Planet' guide your thoughts. The album has looped on your iPod:
'The universe is shaped exactly like the Earth- if you go on straight along enough you'll end up where you were.'