Review Summary: An unexpected triumph
When Modest Mouse began their rollout for The Golden Casket
, everything pointed to it being a flop – perhaps even an unintentionally hilarious one. The lead single and arguably the worst track here, ‘We Are Between’, did little to quell concerns. Considering that Modest Mouse’s production had already slowed to a crawl (two albums in thirteen years), and that those rare releases illustrated a worrying eagerness to rehash their glory days, the band appeared primed for a slow descent into middle-aged, post-prime purgatory. The Golden Casket
claws back against that sense of inevitable decay, offering a vibrant and surprisingly varied psych-pop/indie-rock fusion which sees Modest Mouse doing something they’ve refused to for the better part of two decades: change
The aura here is totally different from the word go
: ‘Fuck Your Acid Trip’ is a gritty, propulsive psych-rocker which alternates between Issac Brock’s menacingly chanted verses and sprightly, melodic choruses. Sure, it’s recognizably Modest Mouse, but it feels like a brand new chapter – one where suddenly no fucks are given and the band is out to seize the universe by the jugular. That is exactly the kind of attitude that was sorely missing from 2007’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
and 2015’s Strangers to Ourselves
, both of which existed largely within the sphere of fan service and self-tributes. On the latter LP’s closer, ‘Of Course We Know’, Brock sang “why would we ever want to wake up?” with an irony that was likely unplanned. If Strangers to Ourselves
represented Modest Mouse asleep at the wheel, then ‘Fuck Your Acid Trip’ acts as a rumble strip to jolt them – and their entire post-Good News
career – awake.
The same vibes of evolution can be felt across all of The Golden Casket
, where Modest Mouse splash fresh, invigorating hues all over their tried-and-true sonic canvas. On a large scale, their approach is more spacious and hi-fi, opting for stunning floating arrangements and maximal pop melodies. On a smaller scale, we get a parade of gorgeous instrumental accents which simultaneously diversify and strengthen their core sound. Jubilant brass shines across the latter half of ‘We’re Lucky’ in a way I’ve never heard from Modest Mouse; ‘Leave A Light On’ sinks into a lush aqueous beat before unveiling an eerie organ; ‘Wooden Soldiers’ just has an abundance of whistling. It’s these seemingly insignificant complementary pieces which elevate The Golden Casket
from “strange” to captivating, and these tiny dots eventually coalesce into one beautiful painting.
Rest assured that even amid Modest Mouse’s sonic ascension, they have not lost any of the heart, soul, or nervous energy that define who they are. They still rock out regularly, such as on the percussively driven, guitar-clad piece ‘Walking and Running’, which rachets up the momentum incrementally until it reaches a breakneck pace. There’s also ‘Back to the Middle’, which closes the album with searing electric guitars. Elsewhere, Issac Brock puts some weight behind the music with lyrics about his children (“I can’t wait to see which paths you choose”), the absence of an all-powerful deity (“I spend too much time out on the deck / Staring out at nothing while nothing at all blankly stares right back”), and the hyperpolarized political climate (“I don’t care for politics and it doesn’t care for me!”). The fear with these kinds of albums always tends to be that they’ll put aesthetic before content, but this seventh LP cleverly avoids that pitfall on all fronts.
The Golden Casket
reveals itself to not only be the group’s most colorful release in quite some time, but also one of their most consistent. Modest Mouse hasn’t exactly been painting with a steady hand in recent years: for every ‘Missed the Boat’ or ‘Pups to Dust’, there’s been a ‘Pistol’ or ‘Shit in Your Cut’ to make you wonder what the hell Issac Brock and co. are doing. Here, the entire experience glows in unison. Even the weaker moments feel like they belong as part of a shared atmosphere, and that’s a crucial step for a band which has, at least of late, conditioned us to accept their releases as patchwork, mixed-bag offerings. The Golden Casket
lays waste to those lowered expectations.
If there’s a knock to be made against this record – aside from the inevitable whining refrain: “but this doesn’t sound like the old Modest Mouse!” – it’s that all of the elements here tend to clash in a way that sounds busier/more cluttered than it would have to. Part of that comes with the psych-pop/hi-fi territory, but it’s nevertheless a kink that should have been ironed out in the mixing stage. The Golden Casket
is an enthralling listen that breathes life into a stagnating discography, but it can be a bit overstimulating nonetheless. By the time the record winds to a close, it's difficult to decide whether that breathless feeling is from exhilaration or exhaustion – maybe it’s a little of both.
All things taken together, The Golden Casket
is an unexpected triumph. It rejuvenates Modest Mouse’s formula, revealing shiny new highways to success without eliminating the same old reliable roads. It is simultaneously more optimistic, upbeat, experimental, and consistent than anything this band has done in recent memory. While it brings with it a few new shortcomings, particularly in the production department, it still makes for the band’s most exciting album in well over a decade. This might not be the exact album you’d expect from Modest Mouse, but isn’t it about time?