Review Summary: "And I'll go to college, and I'll learn some big words, and I'll speak really loud, God damn right I'll be heard, you'll remember the guy who must of learned all of those big words in college"
Modest Mouse’s first album might have been “A Long Drive With Nothing To Think About” but all of a sudden, in Modest Mouse’s second LP “The Lonesome Crowded West”, Isaac Brock sure had a hell of a lot on his mind. In the overall landscape of things, Isaac is, and always has been, Indie Rocks most adept philosopher, and while “The Lonesome Crowded West” is not nearly the existential masterpiece Modest Mouse’s Moon And Antarctica would soon become, it is Modest Mouse’s most emotionally poignant statement. It makes sense, while M&A could be considered the Atheist’s Guide To Life, The Lonesome Crowded West is just Brock completely ***ing losing it, and his many vain attempts to get his sanity back.
Of course, if a fight for sanity was going to take place, no one would of picked the Wild West; after all, for the strong western imagery referenced in the title, there isn’t much of a traditional western motion present in the record. The traditional cowboy and indian scene would have to end in a gruesome massacre, the girl would die of Polio, and Jeff Bridges doesn’t have nearly a damn good enough maniacal grin. And while Brock might be an idealistic individualist cowboy, his brand of independence seems to have led him into a cage, and waiting to be euthanized. And hell, He sure sings like it. This is arguably Isaac Brocks greatest and angriest vocal performance, with him crooning, screaming, yelling, snarling, barking, whispering, seducing, and mocking anything and everything. After all, in this West, “this Plane is definitely crashing”, “God don’t know or even care” and even “the angels they'd sell off your soul/ for a set of new wings and anything gold.” The album is an exercise in the realization that life, God, and people are all meaningless. And even though Brock fantasizes about getting away from this reality by escaping to Alaska to “get off scot-***ing free”, everyone knows even if he did, it still wouldn’t mean ***, because he’s already went from “The top of the ocean, to the bottom of the sky” and all it ended up in was him getting “claustrophobic.”
But even if things aren’t “floating on all right” (pardon the expression), this existential tragedy features Modest Mouse at both their most creative and most unfiltered. Heart Cooks Brain” infuses Modest Mouse’s infectious indie rock with unhinged turntable scratches, transforming a would be timid song into something else entirely. “Jesus Christ Was An Only Child”, the most violent profane hoedown this side of the planet has ever seen, pairs plucked acoustics with schizophrenic violin to create an unnerving drunken fable. Song structures shift constantly and unendingly, making the album completely unpredictable from beginning to end (just attempt to predict what the tender ballad, “Styrofoam Boots” is going to turn into by the end of the song). And even though the album tends to drag, especially in the awesome, yet 4 minutes too long, “Truckers Atlas”, the 74 minute album never feels anything close to mediocre.
Fused with that creativity, Modest Mouse songs in their very essence are enticing cocktails of philosophy and emotion, and not surprisingly, it’s the moment when the emotions starts spilling over the rim that the album is at it’s most effective. The frustration of Brock screaming “Oh my God damn!” in the opening track is enough to summarize the entire album. Likewise "Trailer Trash" is a portrait of such sentimental power, that it could easily be the anthem for every adolescent aged generation. Brock almost seems to the point of breakdown in the end of “Bankrupt on Selling “ singing about his “lover”, with a sense that whatever relationship he’s talking about was most likely completely screwed from the start, just like everything else in this album. The album gains power not from the power of its quirky pessimism but from its ability to relate to the listener. In the end, this is what separates Lonesome Crowded West from many of its contemporaries, the pure emotional impact of the experience.
It’s odd to give so much praise to this album because every concept featured in The Lonesome Crowded West would be reformed and perfected by Modest Mouse’s next album. But while this is not Modest Mouse’s best, I would argue that it is the most important to own. Never has the band sounded so bombastic, creating the impression that the entire record is some melancholic energetic jam session. Never has Isaac Brock been so raw, his lyrics sharp with wit, his emotions on the forefront of every line. And rarely has any album ever been so endearing.
On second thought, The West might work for this album after all. No, not the Hollywood west as first interpreted, but that desolate west, with nothing but miles of bare cold desert and highway, where the destination doesn't matter because there was no destination to begin with …And even if the driver is half drunk and tells a hell of a hopeless tale, you don’t mind. You need some entertainment in this wasteland, and The Lonesome Crowded West is some of the best you will get.