When You're Modest Mouse, Change Is Inevitable

Modest Mouse are back — without a new record. And that's par for the course.
Modest Mouse are back — without a new record. And that's par for the course. Ben Moon
So, it's been a couple of years since longtime indie rockers Modest Mouse dropped their last full-length, Strangers to Ourselves. That one came out eight years after its predecessor, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. And that’s precisely why fans shouldn’t let a mere two years get them in a twist, worrying that there won’t be something else coming down the pike. Word is, they’ve been working on a new one for a while. Lead singer and guitarist Isaac Brock has been quoted saying that they’ll issue the next release “as soon as it is legally possible,” though there doesn’t seem to be much of an explanation as to what that means.

In any case, if Strangers is your current Modest Mouse go-to, that’s not such a bad thing. There’s a different sense of gentleness present that isn’t prominent in the band’s overall catalog. The title track kicks off the record, and it maintains a starkness and composure throughout. For some fans, it’s that latter sense of stability that takes them out of their comfort zone. After all, the musical house the band built, when they formed back in the early 1990s, sits on a foundation of angst, chaos, and recklessness.

They’ve always been a band to keep you teetering on the edge — and you don’t doubt they’re right there alongside you, sinking their fingers into anything they can hold on to.

Make no mistake, they never lost the edge that was part and parcel of those first couple of full-lengths, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About and The Lonesome Crowded West. It’s just that when “Float On” from 2004’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News became a big hit — and the first introduction to the band for many, due to its success — there was concern that the band was going soft. What it actually illustrated was that people change, and not only is that okay, it’s fucking necessary. You have to find comedy deep within some bullshit just to keep standing. In many ways, that song’s edgier than a six-minute jam about some particular existential crisis.

Oh, and don’t worry, Strangers gets more gnarly right after, with tracks like “Lampshades on Fire” and “Shit in Your Cut.” The band sings about change the way that you hope someone would, as it is indicative of evolution. They’re also no stranger to some shake-ups, including a lot of motion in the lineup. What originally started with Brock, Eric Judy on bass, and Jeremiah Green on drums, has seen the coming and going of quite a few different folks. Green took off a little time in 2003, but came back in 2004 and is still on board.

A big surprise was Judy leaving the band in 2012. Being a founding father, it will be interesting to see what that does to the future sound. Even though the band grew to include additional members — like some multi-instrumentalists, and horn and keyboard players — and the lineup has switched up a few times, the lock between those three created and cemented the group’s shape. Even when Johnny Marr from The Smiths joined for a while as guitarist, the core Modest Mouse sound didn’t change, just some nuances.

Brock and Green seem good to let the music reflect life, holding the sides together while a stringy thread of hope flutters around inside, trying not to break. Sort of like their song “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box,” says: “The world’s an inventor / we’re the dirtiest thing it’s thought about / and we really don’t mind.”

Modest Mouse are scheduled to play on Wednesday, May 31, at Crescent Ballroom.
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Amy Young is an arts and culture writer who also spends time curating arts-related exhibits and events, and playing drums in local bands French Girls and Sturdy Ladies.
Contact: Amy Young