It’s a sad truth that to the casual music fan of today, if anything, the name Modest Mouse conjures up an image of a washed-up band that had some big hits in the mid-2000s. Indeed, their singles “Float On” and “Dashboard” had a massive cultural impact, fostering a musical maturation in many members of a generation (myself and several friends included), knocking on our brains’ door in the name of music a bit more complex than the usual radio fare. Sadly, these songs now are a source of the thousands of shirtless Modest Mouse concert attendees shouting for two songs and ignoring the rest.
Which is an enormous shame, because before their run of albums in the 2000s Modest Mouse were a wellspring of some of the most intense, otherworldly, and unique indie rock ever made. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, this trio (and eventual four-piece) of late teenagers and early twenty-somethings struck musical gold for about five years, gold that no band preceding or since has seemed to reach. Influenced by Built To Spill, Unwound, Bob Dylan and beyond that who knows, they pounded out music that was simple but intelligent, proggy but punky, dissonant but beautiful.
Drummer Jeremiah Green’s pounding tom rolls and ringing snare hits drove rhythms that marched on like passing highway markers, allowing Eric Judy’s bass lines to travel along them, melting into chords like molasses. Over this landscape, Isaac Brock and Dann Galucci’s guitar lines vacillated from folky, meandering lines of harsh beauty to bracing shreds of primitive distortion. Brock also provided vocals: his dejected melodies and pained shouts, sopping with pathos, revealed preternaturally talented, Dylan-inspired lyrics worthy of their forefather, with twisted lines of logic linking the despair of interpersonal struggles to the decay of American society to the larger movements of mankind and the universe.
Their first two full length albums, 1996’s This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About and 1997’s The Lonesome Crowded West (two of my favorite album titles as well) have this musical and lyrical chemistry on full display, containing enough musical treasures to keep you enraptured for years. Truly, since first listening to these albums almost five years ago, they have continued to enthrall and surprise me to this day, and I suspect they will continue doing so for a good while longer.
And Brock’s record label, Glacial Pace, is making it that much easier with today’s announcement of the 180-gram vinyl reissues of both of these albums. For years, you could only find a vinyl copy of one of these bad boys on ebay for hundreds of dollars. Today they’re available for pre-order at $22 each. Imagine being able to buy these pinnacles of indie rock for the price of any layman’s rock record. I already did it! Find them here and here. And here’s Pitchfork’s documentary on the making of The Lonesome Crowded West, widely considered a landmark album in indie rock in general. Let Modest Mouse into your life, I swear, you won’t be sorry!