Review Summary: The Moon & Antarctica is a beautiful collapse that brings Modest Mouse into moody territory as they slowly sink through the cold air.
It was a cold January evening as I wearily slogged home through the slush coating the streets of my college town. My numbed hand reached for my iPod and proceeded to play Modest Mouse’s The Moon & Antarctica
. As Isaac Brock’s heartrending musing commenced, I noticed I was entirely alone. Except for a column of flickering streetlights in my path, I was the only thing within plain sight that was emanating heat. Suddenly, on this uneventful walk home, I was contemplating the meaning and purpose of existence. Are we - or more specifically, am I - nothing more than a piece of matter in this infinitely gigantic universe? I felt small and feeble, but I then realized that regardless of whether or not life really means anything, it’s important to remember to “live before you die”. The Moon & Antarctica
is an album of revelations like that, as majestic or dour as they may be.
Modest Mouse’s third LP finds the band taking an incredibly moody approach to their songwriting. Excising many of the spastic breakdowns that saturated The Lonesome Crowded West
, this record is more focused and atmospheric. The spectacular flow from track to track demonstrates compositional finesse and conceptual unity. In addition, Isaac Brock’s brilliant lyricism broaches topics like the illusions of faith and religion, existentialism, nature, and loneliness in the midst of it all. The first line he drops on the opener, “3rd Planet”, “Everything that keeps me together is falling apart”, suggests the inevitability of a downward slope. As the precipice draws nearer, the tone of the album grows darker and darker. Modest Mouse’s sonic depth makes this descent both believable and immersive.
Retaining their indie rock aesthetic in an overwhelmingly brooding environment, the band utilizes wide, open spaces to enhance the scale of their sound as well as the feelings of isolation that it evokes. Tracks like “The Cold Part”, “The Stars Are Projectors”, "Dark Center of the Universe", and “Life Like Weeds” embrace instrumentally lavish arrangements that ebb and flow elegantly. The beautiful acoustic guitar of “Gravity Rides Everything” perfectly complements the sense of splendor within the unfathomable world that Brock observes. These songs convey an aura of learned helplessness as we hear Brock ponder the ideas of fate and desolation. What makes it such a rich experience, however, is that the ideas of loneliness and apprehension are not pressed upon the listener by the band. Instead, they gradually materialize within the nuanced strata of sounds that the band harnesses.
There are plenty of quirky moments that attest to Modest Mouse’s distinctive ability to spark sheer energy. The unkempt bassline on “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” and the uncompromising shouts on “A Different City” display Modest Mouse in a state of kinesis. Furthermore, Brock’s vocals are sharper than ever, rendering his introspections a wholesome treat to follow. And though, conceptually, Modest Mouse exudes an air of conspicuous vulnerability, aurally they’re strong and cogent. The crisp production only further highlights the band’s potent songwriting and instrumental sophistication. Modest Mouse is clearly making music from a passionate place.
The Moon & Antarctica
also prides itself on variety. From the concise, folk-influenced “Wild Packs of Family Dogs” to the sluggish, but caustic “Perfect Disguise”, the album steadily glides through poignant soundscapes abound with lush melodies. Every single track lends something substantial to the big picture at hand. Perhaps the most powerful statement comes on “Lives”, in which Brock warns the audience not to live one’s life on someone else’s terms. Thought-provoking lyrics like “If I had a nickel for every damn dime I’d have half the time” seem to weigh the brevity of human life above material possessions. There are profound remarks aplenty throughout the record, and digging through Brock’s clever witticisms proves enormously satisfying.
The Moon & Antarctica
is simply a treasure. Its immense replay value will always invite deeper interpretations, and its sonic quality proves intoxicating, even in its most dismal moments. In the end, The Moon & Antarctica
is something truly unique, the kind of album that shows you what it feels like to hit rock bottom. However, it also reminds you that there still might be time to pull yourself up to the surface.
The Stars Are Projectors
The Cold Part
Gravity Rides Everything
Life Like Weeds