Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Modest Mouse - Strangers To Ourselves Review

The last time Modest Mouse released a record Barack Obama was not the president of the United States, let that sink in for a second. Their career, led by Issac Brock's insistence on doing things their own way, has led to drastic sound changes and delayed gifts to the fans with years of mounting silence being the remnants of a group known for their sonic abundance. With the arrival of Strangers To Ourselves, little has changed in the way of Modest Mouse post-2001, a time when their music officially divided their fan base when they took the road heavily walked upon by Pop, pseudo-Indie crossovers. It's an unfortunate case though of Indie darlings responsible for such classics like Lonesome Crowded West and Moon & Antarctica rescinding themselves to the explosion of 'Float On,' a song nearly wholly accountable for altering their sound to benefit the majority rather than their grunge-induced fans. And now, with more time passing between Lonesome and Good News than this album and their latest, Strangers harms itself by falling into mundanity, a muddled mess of basic song structures that fail to advance past a tainted sound barely approachable in the first place.

One of the most concrete showings of this are the tracks that preceded the albums release, five of them in total, resulting in an abnormally high collection of singles. And yet, Strangers seems to outdo that notion by amassing a tracklist that runs the gamut in hopes of sparking that easily-approachable, depth-less sound ripe for mainstream appeal. Few tracks here even attempt to offer variety, with the lone standouts being the surprisingly crisp, quiet, surreptitious opener and the charming ol western 'God Is An Indian & You're An Asshole.' Long gone are the days of 'Cowboy Dan' and 'Stars Are Projectors' where every breath was a cryptic blitzkrieg of unpredictable moments, far from content with normality. Now, each song plays out like a plea for likability in bulk, resisting any attempt to disavow expectations, even to the preceding albums that Strangers mimics. Even then, We Were Dead's calling card was its constancy in terms of cohesion, elevating a nautical theme throughout with applicable highs and lows. Nothing here represents that feat, the album progresses as a uniform roller coaster incapable of ascending or descending with its risks coming in subtle turns and banks. 

To spark some interest the band emphasizes a wide range of instrumentation, even if only for show. 'Sugar Boots,' uses a panicky piano riff which sounds plucked from a cartoonish haunted house, 'Pistol' comes complete with electronic drum kits, and 'Wicked Campaign' highlights rising synth structures to build momentum. Guitars, whether electric or acoustic, still remain the foundation for Modest Mouse's music, and rightfully so, as they do their part in progressing the songs where other instruments would fail. The biggest pitfall in Strangers however is Issac's voice, sometimes minutely distorted or altered, most of the time grating with the unnecessary southern twang he magically curated post Good News years. It's an unwarranted addition, and one that causes his voice to forcibly cement itself in only a specific set of sounds, thus causing many here to become redundant. And while this isn't a direct con to the album for this sound has its own merits, Strangers as a whole gives off a classic Disney-themed movie vibe that's difficult to explain but resides in a forced charm, like 'Coyotes,' 'Ansel,' and 'Pups To Dust,' that program themselves to adhere to an upbeat nonchalance that parades throughout like a montage sequence. 

Strangers isn't entirely lacking in substance though. While the production is scarce of creativity, Brock makes up for in some cases of intriguing metaphors that punctuate humanities self-indulgence and lack of awareness towards its own natural home. Sure, these concerns have persisted for decades, but with every step forward we take two back in terms of putting ourselves second behind nature, a crime that Brock exposes consistently throughout Strangers. Lead single 'Lampshades On Fire' focuses on humanities grand party at the expense of the destruction it causes, while 'Coyotes' equates this destruction with that of serial killers, perennially killing off animals in the wildlife with the knowhow to stop it. Even the cover elicits this devastation, with a mass of suburban homes endlessly being built over the green pastures that once stood idle. One of the best songs here, the finale, 'Of Course We Know,' provides an interesting internal complex, one that questions why should we even care when we don't know why we're here in the first place. As per Modest Mouse fashion, God is brought into question with Brock telling him to "lay down your own damn soul," a likely indicator that Brock believes to progress forward we need to disconnect from religion as a whole. 

Through these obvious metaphors comes a declaration of humanity to admit ignorance of itself, a feat nearly impossible to accomplish with religious stubbornness providing answers, and a way out, to things we don't know. The heart of Strangers To Ourselves is certainly pounding, at least in places not labeled 'Pistol,' a song that effortlessly takes the cake for Modest Mouse's worst song. And while every facet of their latest release presents no inventive viewpoint or detail, one can't help but to fall for its allure. For the handful of memorable tracks there's another that regurgitates the "ta-ta-ta-ta" from 'Lampshades'' pinnacle chorus, just one example in a fault of unoriginality that can't be ignored. Even evading comparisons to their seminal works, few, if any, tracks here contend with the likes of 'Missed The Boat,' 'Parting Of The Sensory,' and 'Spitting Venom' off We Were Dead. The derivativeness is on too grand of a scale, the quirks, redundancies, and irritations far too great to praise the messages hidden beneath them. Strangers To Ourselves, soon to be followed up by a partner album, still deserves a welcoming, not for what it brings, but what it brings with it, that being the continued renewal of hope that Modest Mouse still exists, regardless of the fact that their music once praised for its failure to abide by customs has now entirely succumb to them.

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