While Modest Mouse may be one of the most revered indie bands of the '90s and so forth (at least in hindsight), it's more than humbling to actually listen to their music without those superflous remarks toting albums beyond their respective 'rankings'. Although Isaac Brock writes and sings with dazzling confusion - abstract expressionalism perhaps, at most - I feel welcome. The tone of his voice, how the pitch of his voice rises and falls, his sometimes indecipherable warble; it's all good in my book. You could say his presence is humbling, despite the bleak lyrical content that he seems to be familiar with by now. That's really just an understatement at most - he's just damn cool. The Moon & Antarctica
just may be the closest that Modest Mouse will ever come to the debatle institution known as 'classic'. The whole title, cover art, concept, and so on reek of an album that is larger than it really tries to be. ***, it's David and Goliath jammed into a plastic disc, and it doesn't even know
While all of that 'classic' mumbo-jumbo is just dandy, there is a lot more to The Moon & Antarctica
then just the music itself (well, not really). This thingy here also happens to be Modest Mouse's major-label debut, often considered an indie taboo, despite the irony that's all nimbly bimbly in there somewhere. Maybe Epic got it right though; the production is top-notch and nothing but. It's clear and concise, but there is also a healthy amount of space between the instruments and Isaac Brock's oft-layered voice. Not only this, but they have also reached beyond typical studio techniques, embracing typical newfound studio techniques instead: backwards tape effects, multiple guitar tracks, mysterious noises and waves of unintelligable sounds. Jeremiah Green's drumming veers from relaxed to robotic stuttering, close enough to a drum machine to convince you that Modest Mouse somehow wanted to make rave music ("Tiny Cities Made of Ashes"). Oh, and there's Eric Judy, another prominent member of the band (they all are, silly). His bass playing is usually clear, inducing a free-spirted dance party in our little ear drums. But, summarizing the band members does nothing more than give you a depiction of the member's duties in the band, which is actually pretty loose for once. Whatcha gon' do about it?
On The Moon & Antarctica
, Modest Mouse tackle a wide range of issues that you would expect from the ever-so-philisophical Isaac Brock, and here his potent musings and questions are everywhere
. Life, death, the afterlife, purity, materialism, it's all here. Isaac, though, obviously doesn't want to make his point as direct as an Oxy Clean commercial; he expresses his thoughts and burdons in a much more subtle, and somehow obvious, way. The moon and Antarctica are the only things left undiluted by the march of humanity; our constant stride for wanting more, but destroying things much more precious in the process of this. A upsetting irony, and obviously something that strikes a chord in Isaac Brock's little stringed heart. "3rd Planet" immediately introduces the imagery, as depressing as it is. The acoustic guitar strums and breezy accompaniment, along with Isaac's layered voice, are misleading in their vaguely uplifting tone. However, his thoughts on the afterlife and the earth are clear: "The third planet is sure they're being watched by an eye in the sky that can't be stopped/ When you get to the promise land, you're gonna shake that eye's hand" or "The universe is shaped exactly like the earth / If you go straight enough you'll end up where you were". The first half of the album has that same uplifting tone, one that could easily distract someone from the actual lyrical content of the songs, which contradicts the music greatly. "Gravity Rides Everywhere" sports some of the most upbeat music on the album, but that familiar content is here also ("When we die some sink and some lay / But at least I don't see you float away"), while quite a few moments of "Dark Center of the Universe" sound more like My Bloody Valentine, with warbled pitch fluctuations. What's best about it, though, is Tyler Riley's violin contributions, which there are quite a few on The Moon & Antarctica
"Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" is one of the songs that stands out from the rest of the more atmospheric and laidback songs on the album. It's pure dance-rock: a hypnotic dance line, drum machine-like drums, synthesizer, and random guitar otubursts. Isaac goes from a muted whisper to an obnoxious, angry shout. Once again the topic seems to be debateable, with descriptions of fights, Coca-Cola, "my world is an ashtray", death, and several other bleak statements that live up to the rest of the album's path. "A Different City" rocks just as much, with a warped, chorus-happy guitar line over stuttering drums and Isaac's metaphorical writing, again (I'm watchin' t.v. I guess that's the solution / They gave me a receipt that said I didn't buy nothin'). However, the most depressing and bleak section of the album has to be right in the middle, with "The Cold Part", "Alone Down There", and "The Stars Are Projectors". This threesome give the album a bloated feeling, especially the 8 minute "The Stars and Projectors", a pretentious, overbearing summary of the album. The problem is, it's in the middle
of the album, making a full listen difficult, though the flow is not corrupted by pandering mini-epics as such.
The Moon & Antarctica
easily recovers from the mid-section mess. "Paper Thin Walls" is another upbeat indie-rock jaunt, another track where Isaac Brock shines through with his hasty warble, supported by backing vocals from Tim Rutilli. It's music is lightweight and breezy, unlike "The Stars and Projectors", and doesn't sound as forced as the music on "Tiny City Made of Ashes". Lyrically, it's one of the best songs on the album, where Isaac proves to be much more clever than his contemporaries ("It's been agreed that the world stinks so no one's taking a shower anymore" or " Laugh hard it's a long way to the bank"), but he also provides insight into the world, where one's business is everyone's ("Everyone's a voyeur, it's them watching me watch them watch me right now"), greed, selfishness, self-idolaztion, or perhaps a lack of individuality ("Everyone wants two of themselves and half of everyone else who's around"). "I Came as a Rat" is terrible, sounding more like Nirvana with Isaac Brock than anything else. "Lives" is plaintive, lyrically and musically, with acoustic fingerpicking and Isaac's downtrotten vocal delivery, along with more gorgeous violin from Tyler Riley.... "Everyone's afraid of their own lives / If you could be anything you want I bet you'd be dissapointed, am I right?" ..... "My hell comes from inside, comes from inside myself / Why fight this?". It would have been the perfect ending to the album, a simple summarization of the album. Maybe Modest Mouse intended to ended the album on the hyper-active, rip-roaring, Ritalin-deprived freakout "What People Are Made Of". It's confusing in that it's relevance to the rest of the album is dick.
Some bands fail miserably when they attempt to grow and expand past their earlier boundaries and limitations. Falling flat on your face for a year or two is nothing to be afraid of, if you'd like. Bob Dylan did, and he came back even better than he would have been before, right? Maybe not, but what I can say is that Modest Mouse have sucessfully crossed the barrier that seperates a juvenile understanding and a true understanding of life. Sure, there are several instances where The Moon & Antarctica
becomes a pretentious and boring mess, especially in "The Stars Are Projectors" and "Life Like Weeds", but what they have accomplished with this album alone is staggering. Everything comes together perfectly, whether or not it was intended to be that way or not. Isaac Brock's lyrical depth, understanding, and his unrelenting question blooms with this album more so than on anything else that they have ever done. Musically ambitious, The Moon & Antarctica
is probably the closest thing that Modest Mouse will ever get to a 'classic' album. Good News For People Who Love Bad News
certainly reinforces my statement.
Human beings ain't made of nothin' more than water and shi
"Gravity Rides Everything"
"Tiny Cities Made of Ashes"
"Paper Thin Walls"