April 15, 2004

Breaking News and Hearts

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Last summer, I saw Modest Mouse at Siren Festival on Coney Island. Life was pretty sweet — I was there with friends, and friends of friends … and a girl. She looked cute as all hell in her yellow summer skirt. When she opened her eyes wide, I swooned.

Modest Mouse was the soundtrack to my rambunctious youth. When I was sixteen, I mostly just listened to Modest Mouse and punched the air, often doing both at the same time. I probably shouted a lot and read Catcher in the Rye more than once. Basically I screamed all the time, and Modest Mouse had a lot to do with that.

But that day in the summer of ’03, I distinctly remember not caring about Modest Mouse at all. I felt completely detached from all of the other revelers who sang along: “And I shout that you’re all fakes. Fakes!” I even went so far as to feel sorry for all of those kids my age and older, stranded in the adolescence of their late twenties. For the kids younger than me, I figured they would know better eventually. But, personally, I anticipated the end of Modest Mouse in my life. After all, life couldn’t be better.

What I didn’t foresee was the intersection of two critical events. First, I didn’t expect that my pliable heart would make that sound of breaking. That girl who made Modest Mouse irrelevant said, “Hey, I won’t see you.” Now, I don’t pretend to have shut the door to the ivory tower of my heart; but, I definitely felt like staring blankly ahead or crawling into a corner, both of which I’ve done with frequency.

The other unanticipated event was that Modest Mouse would release a record not steeped in metaphysical whining, but instead concentrating on hope in melancholy — good news in bad news. “Float On” is possibly the most thematically upbeat Modest Mouse song ever written. This pop-tastic ditty is earmarked by the emphatic “Sometimes life’s OK.” Perhaps the song’s refreshing message can account for its success and the imminent take over of Modest Mouse on modern rock radio.

Unfortunately, most of the lyrics are not as strong in this record as Modest Mouse’s previous efforts. “Ocean Breathes Salty” has a few missteps, evoking the commonplace image of “where the ocean met the sky” and the typical faux-Escherian space-time warp “when the earth folded in on itself.” Despite these lyrical snafus, this track helps to support a strong start.

Although the record wanes through the middle with the typically irritatingly caustic sing-speak of “Dig Your Grave” and the inane “Dance Hall,” the record ends on a high note. I’ve learned to “Blame it on the Tetons” and that “The Good Times are Killing Me,” all positive life lessons.

Generally, there is no “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine,” a fan favorite which makes you want to start shrieking and beating your fists. “Float On” is mundanely anthematic and “Bury Me With It” is obnoxious, but neither comes close. But perhaps that’s symptomatic of the new Modest Mouse: a band that suggests that bad things not happening is almost the same as good things … happening.

Archived article by Walter Chen
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer