Isaac Brock Ė Vocals, Guitar
Eric Judy Ė Bass
Jeremiah Green Ė Drums
*and probably some other session musicians, but I canít check that right now
This could be one of the landmark albums of the 1990s, so I was surprised to see that nobody has reviewed it. While Modest Mouse has expanded into a larger band on tour, they started as a trio. After a somewhat scattered debut, these Seattleites managed to put together a rather cohesive second album that somehow manages to tie together some strangely different songs into a cohesive and powerful unit. I am unfamiliar with the bandís ethos/intent, but it seems to me as though this could be a concept album about the difficulties of life in postmodern American society. Most bands have released at least one album about such an idea anyway. Some (Radiohead/Pink Floyd) have released numerous albums on the subject. However, I have yet to hear someone present it in the same way that Modest Mouse has.
Teeth Like Godís Shoeshine
The album opens with a punch, and the guitar in the opening track is somewhat catchy. The song goes through a strange progression, faltering in the middle before a dramatic crescendo at the end. 4/5
Heart Cooks Brain
Here is your first introduction to a theme that will recur later in the album. This song is basically a simple beat, punctuated by synonymous rhythm guitar, bass and keyboard lines. What makes it amazing is the mesmerizing guitar line that Isaac plays. It seems to loop through a few different variations of the same riff without any particular reason, and really attracts oneís attention. It is essentially a 4-minute loop of the same riff, but it doesnít seem to draw out or require an amazing exercise of patience. 4.5/5
Thereís nothing remarkable here. Itís just a midtempo indie rock song with some cool play between guitars. If you donít like Isaacís voice, you might as well hit the skip button a few times. Heís really umÖ singing on this one. 3.5/5
Lounge (Closing Time)
This starts out similar to Convenient Parking or Teeth Like Godís Shoeshine. It has a catchy, choppy riff that draws you in. But watch out, there is an interesting interlude and buildup. It goes nowhere however, and you end up listening through another two minute of desolate music with whispered vocals. That is the point, however. This is not for the short of attention span, but it isnít a bad song. 4/5
Jesus Christ Was an Only Child
This seems to be out of place. While the previous songs have been electric, this is acoustic and has a strange effect on either the vocals or the guitar that distracts the listener from the main riff. The fiddle (aka violin) also makes a cameo here. That is the main saving grace of an otherwise boring song, although the guitar has a nice tone to it, and ends up in a duet with the fiddle. Isaacís vocals tend to hog the spotlight though. 3.5/5
Doiní the Cockroach
This song builds relatively slowly, and starts off with a really catchy descending guitar riff. It then evolves into a jam of sorts, and the bass plays a sort of strange line that helps to drive along the drumbeat. Then the guitar breaks off and plays a choppy solo. The climax of the song, as in many others, is choppy instrumentation with Isaacís singing featured above it. It continues an accelerated march as the guitar plays pinch harmonics, and suddenly breaks. 4.5/5
This tracks seems to be a misfit. It starts with a slow, reverb-laden intro that creates a stark contrast to the preceding track. I used to dislike this song, but itís grown on me with increased listening. It is rather dramatic and drawn out, but again, that is the purpose. Cowboy Dan is being destroyed by society. 4.5/5
He didn't move to the city:
"The city moved to me,
And I want out desperately."
Standing in the tall grass
We need oxygen to breathe,
Oxygen to breathe.
This is one of my personal favorites, mostly because I like the vocals. The rhythm guitar plays a chunky riff, and the lead guitar plays a quasi-harmonic riff above it. The bass is used well here, and it plays a melody in the background that complements the guitars well. It builds to a gut-wrenching climax at the end. I am tempted to give it a 5, but Iím trying to avoid bias, so it instead receives a 4.5/5.
Out of Gas
Itís the recapitulation of the Heart Cooks Brain theme! Thereís nothing remarkable about this track really. Itís simple and catchy, but there are many other songs on this CD that are catchier as well as more interesting. 3/5
Long Distance Drunk
This is kind of a cross between Out of Gas and Jesus ChristÖ The acoustic guitar reappears to deliver another simple, well-textured riff, and Isaac croons (can he do that") above the riff. There is minimal percussion, and unless I missed something by not paying careful attention, the bass plays the same note throughout. This ainít your daddyís guitar driven song, and it has nice backing vocals. It rambles like Truckerís Atlas (weíll get to that in a minute), but for a comparatively short amount of time. 3.5/5
The guitar and bass play the same notes as the drummer thrashes away. The other guitar plays a crazy harmonic line above it. It is highly debatable if it could be called a riff, though it does follow a similar pattern throughout. I forgot how to escape the censors, but this song rocks. 4/5
How fitting that track 12 should be a 12-minute jam. This track isnít bad, but it isnít good either. Nothing remarkable happens through most of the song. If you want to feel like a Trucker, go ahead and listen to all 12 minutes of it. If you want to skip the monotony of music designed to convey the truckerís experience and save your ears time for savoring other tracks on this CD, go ahead. I like it conceptually, but not musically. 2.5/5
This is another song with choppy guitars and your basic drumbeat and bass, but itís more normal than most of the other songs. It seems to convey an aura of optimism, but the lyrics make references to alcoholism and death. How cheery. 4/5
Bankrupt on Selling
The acoustic guitar has disappeared for a few songs. Why not bring it back" This time it plays with a minimal bass riff, no percussion, and a lone electric guitar (with phaser I think) playing lead over it. Itís a really sentimental song, and, in my opinion at least, really powerful. 5/5
Stryofoam Boots/Itís All Nice on Ice All Right
This song isnít really spectacular, but it comes after the most depressing song on the CD, and that helps it. I was impressed with Jeremiahís snare rattling in the end, but then again Iím a guitarist so donít take my word for it. This is the sort of feel good song that you need at the end of a CD like this. 4/5
Overall: A- 91/100
This album stands out above most others, and is certainly good music. However, whether or not it is great is highly debatable. The lyrics could potentially be either amazingly profound, or par for the course, depending on who listens to them. Conceptually, this is a beautifully constructed album, and there isnít a bad song on here. Conversely, no single song stands out. The guitars are usually choppy and punchy, and Isaacís voice seldom varies. This may be boring, but it gives the cohesion that is needed to make divergent styles cohere with one another within an album. It is definitely best listened to as a whole album. The clichť that the whole is more than the sum of the parts holds true here. The album can be entertaining, but to perceive it on a level beyond simple entertainment, multiple listens are required. Only time will tell if this album is truly great.