Review Summary: A gargantuan indie rock record with plenty of heart and a variety of pleasing sounds to take in.
Indie rock is rapidly evolving into one of the music industry's most expansive genres, being virtually unknown in the mid '80s and now all of a sudden bleeding its way into pop and rock radio by 2013. Indie began its slow ascent near the end of the 1980's, with bands such as Pixies paving the way for an all-out assault on the music world in the '90s when alternative music took over the airwaves for the remainder of that decade. While several great artists and albums were prevalent in the mainstream during this time, digging through the more obscure regions of the alternative world also rewarded some incredible listening experiences. Among these obscure gems to come out of the 1990's was a beautifully bleak album entitled 'This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About' by an at-the-time unknown indie trio named Modest Mouse.
'Long Drive' is Modest Mouse's debut album, released in 1996. It is a mammoth album, containing 16 songs that last for 74 minutes. However, not a second of the album feels dragged out or sloppily put together, which is a trait that escapes many lengthier albums. The production is crisp and clear, although it gives off a desolate feeling, as though all the positive energy has been sucked out of the recording studio. This recording technique works wonders for band, as the album contains little to no positive thoughts in its lyricism. Probably the best thing about the production is Isaac Brock's guitar tone, which on this record is easily the best it's ever sounded. The guitar lines contain just the right amount of abrasiveness without coming on too strong, but Brock's playing is also versatile, as for much of the record the band plays at a quieter dynamic and his clean guitar tones shine through. On songs such as "Custom Concern" where Brock plays a dual-tracked acoustic and electric guitar, the band slowly trudges their way through four and a half minutes of somber country music while Brock's leads push the song forward. However, his guitar parts can get extremely pummeling and abrasive at times, such as on album standout "Beach Side Property" or the chaotic "Tundra/Desert". What is easily the best guitar arrangement is seen on opening track "Dramamine", where a majestic lead soars over arpeggiated rhythms while drummer Jeremiah Green plugs away at his kit distantly in the background. The guitar ebbs and flows from loud to quiet whenever Isaac wants to accent one of the words he's singing, and as the band segues into one of their trademark slow jams the lead somehow becomes even more majestic and beautiful, as it is slowly overpowered by feedback and Green's constant percussion. The band obviously knows how to work with harmony extremely well, and the bass is prevalent in the mix which always gives an album bonus points in my book. Modest Mouse also enjoy suddenly shifting from quaint instrumental phases to loud waves of hard rock, such as on the brief "Might" or another highlight, "Make Everyone Happy/Mechanical Birds".
Both the songs I listed in the previous sentence are augmented by another piece of the puzzle, Isaac Brock's unique vocal style and lyrics. While his vocals are admittedly an acquired taste, anyone with an appreciation of music will be fascinated by the lyrics this man writes. Whether he's spewing caustic hatred on "Make Everyone Happy" ("I'd hate to see anybody thank you") or vividly describing a drug trip on "Dramamine" ("I still can't focus on anything/we kiss on the mouth but still cough down our sleeves") Brock's lyrics tackle tough slices of life with a poetic twist. Perhaps the greatest example of this on album, perhaps of the band's career, is on "Talking Sh*t About A Pretty Sunset" a touching lament on depression. As he solemnly wails "I've changed my mind so much I can't even trust it/My mind changed me so much I can't even trust myself" it's impossible to not feel the slightest thing deep inside your mind, something you can't exactly pinpoint, a feeling you can't pin down, but simply is. However, one may not feel this perhaps because they cannot enjoy Brock's vocal style. This is what turns most people off from the band, but Modest Mouse's benefactors often cite Isaac's vocals as one of, if not the most integral part of the band. It compliments the band's raw sound very well, as it's clear that he is giving it his all and then some on every single vocal track of 'Long Drive'. His murderous shrieks on 'Beach Side Property' will chill the listener's blood, while the gentle croons of "Talking Sh*t" will bring it back to room temperature.
The rhythm section is undeniably tight on this record. Eric Judy and Jeremiah Green mesh incredibly well, complimenting each other perfectly and playing off each other's strengths and weaknesses. Judy's bass tunings are unique and his parts are well-written but not overly busy. Green's drums sound beefy and back up the music with force and precision. On tracks such as "Break Through" the rhythm plays off the guitar melodies with basic driving force, while simultaneously putting a ton of effort into what they're doing. However, both Judy and Green are given ample chance to shine, such as on "Exit Does Not Exist" or the wonderful "Lounge".
And besides all that I listed above, there are several other factors that simply make 'Long Drive' a joy to listen to. On this record, Modest Mouse was a trio, and they still sounded stronger than they do today with six members. This was pure honest songwriting at its finest, with no holds barred when it came to revealing lyricism or challenging music. It contains "Lounge", which would later be remade as "Closing Time" on The Lonesome Crowded West. Many tracks on the record contain wonderful, ornate string arrangements and female background vocals, like the aforementioned "Lounge" or "Head South". The album also flows seamlessly, with the listener never really losing attention. A common complaint is that "Space Travel Is Boring" should not be the closing track. I used to believe the same thing, thinking that the preceding track, "Make Everyone Happy/Mechanical Birds" was a more appropriate closer, but upon further listens I grew to appreciate the slow thaw of the music and the sort of falling apart of the arrangement until its end, where it fades out with the wonderful sounds of a space launch. And Modest Mouse makes me feel like I am at that space launch.
"Space Travel Is Boring" is my example to help me support my last claim on this album; it is amazingly atmospheric. It grasps me with iron claws and does not release its grip for an hour and fifteen minutes. It makes me feel a variety of emotions, some of which relate to the music and some of which relate to experiences that my brain itself has related to the music. This truly is a band in their prime, which is shocking since this was their debut. Surprisingly, the band would only improve from here, releasing two indie classics and one of the greatest compilation albums ever. However, it all began here, with Long Drive. And boy, did it begin with a bang.
Recommended Tracks (Asterisk signifies best song):
Beach Side Property
Talking Sh*t About A Pretty Sunset
Make Everyone Happy/Mechanical Birds