Review Summary: This album is perfect for a long drive, regardless of if you have something to think about or not.
In my head, I like to split up Modest Mouse's career into 3 parts: the This Is A Long Drive for Someone With Nothing To Think About era, the LCW/TMA era and the Float on era. While LCW and TMA are clearly their masterpieces and the " Float on era" (containing Good New for People Who Love Bad News and We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank) is clearly their more accessible and radio friendly music, This Is A Long Drive for Someone With Nothing To Think About is a raw, often overlooked, thing of beauty.
The very first sounds heard on this record are that of the dreamy lead riff from album-opener Dramamine. Its sound is swirling yet calming, its vocals angst-filled yet soothing. The song is carried by that same sleepy guitar throughout the entirety of its nearly 6 minutes. Length and similar sleepy guitar riffs are common themes on this album and Dramamine seems to set the listener up for that.
The album does feature songs that do not follow like that, such as the brief and raw songs Breakthrough and Might. However, this album has some of its best moments when it is opening songs with sections of melodic vocals and then breaking them down into slower, more emotional sounding sections carried by those same ever-present, guitar riffs. Lounge and Beach Side Property are examples of this and they make for two of the best tracks on the record. The slow and sad sounding songs, such as Custom Concern and Ionizes and Atomizes are very effective at setting the depressed tone that this album carries throughout much of its entirety and the effect of the chilling vocals of Nicole Johnson (on Ionizes and Atomizes) cannot be overlooked. She also plays an important role on the cymbal-crashing Head South as she contrasts Isaac Brock's full out screaming with sweet high pitched singing. Tundra/Desert is the most hectic sounding song on the album as guitars and drums erupt and are accompanied by vocals that seemingly pay no attention to them. As noisy as it may be, it is a very good song with tremendous lyrics. Novocain Stain is a great track while Make Everyone Happy/ Mechanical Birds, Ohio and Exit Does Not Exist are all pretty good. Dog Paddle is filler and Space Travel Is Boring is only acceptable because it is the album closer and lightens the mood a bit.
I saved Talking *** About A Pretty Sunset for last because it, along with Dramamine, encapsulate this album into a song. With emotional lyrics followed by continuous guitar, just like Dramamine, this song is the most depressed sounding on the album. Throughout the album, songs share the structure of these songs with front loaded lyrics followed by lengthy repetitive riffs leading out the song. The length, but more specifically the aforementioned structure of these lengthy songs, are some people's main criticism of this album. Personally, it is one of my favorite features of it. Not only do I find it to be anything but boring repetition, but I feel that it also gives the album an identity. One of depressed long drives through the middle of nowhere, as the cover suggests. And long drives not only in a literal sense, but also as long stretches of life, full of confusion and no sense of direction. This is, after all, what the album's title is suggesting. This is a long drive for someone with nothing to think about. Someone traveling on the road of life without a sense of purpose. The music throughout the album- the long stretches of sad guitar and the emotional vocals of Isaac Brock- all reflect such a person's thoughts and feelings. This is the album's true identity and feeling.