Modest Mouse Returns With A Puzzling, Experimental Project

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Anyone who claims to be a fan of rock has most likely heard of Modest Mouse. Formed in 1993, the band went on hiatus from 2010-2014, but with Strangers to Ourselves, the band re-enters the rock scene, reclaiming a place of prominence within the genre.

Modest Mouse has described the album as “experimental.” It includes both new songs and older ones that the band produced and released during the group’s hiatus. Embracing an indie-folk/rock sound, it has some promising songs and there are some songs that definitely cannot be overlooked. Considering, however, the haphazard way the album was pieced together, the album doesn’t fit together as neatly and nice as it sometimes sounds.

Loyal listeners can still appreciate the slightly misanthropic lyrics that Modest Mouse has always had in its songs. The title of the album is inspired by a passage written by Virginia Woolf in “The Mark on the Wall.” These listeners, though, may end up the old sound in favor of the newer, blander style.

The album opens with the title track, “Strangers to Ourselves.” The song is one of their more experimental pieces, and the band hits it off really well with this opener. The song is more easy-going and slow. The cello and the guitar work together to create a smooth indie quality that underlies the entire piece. Although the song is unlike the usual rock style of the band, one can’t knock Modest Mouse’s execution. “Lampshades on Fire,” “Be Brave,” and “Ansel” are three other great songs on the album that channel the old Modest Mouse rock. They’re catchy yet diverse.

“The Best Room,” “Coyotes,” and “Wicked Campaign” represent the indie-folk spectrum. The three songs are a good listen. They’re a simple, easy listen but lack the dynamic energy of  truly great song.

The remaining songs on the album are not as strong. “Sugar Boats” and “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box” are the last two songs featured on the album that really showcase the talent of Modest Mouse. While both songs have more of a rock element, there isn’t much salvation here.

“Sugar Boats” has a circus tune, and despite the inclusion of a horns section, nothing else about the song really stands out. “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box” has a catchy pop rock rhythm with a driving dynamic between the drums and guitar, but the song drags on for over six minutes and leans too heavily on dragging instrumental section. Cutting it shorter would’ve been a good choice.

“Shit in your Cut,” “Pistol,” “God Is an Indian and You’re an Asshole,” “The Tortoise and the Tourist,” and “Of Course We Know” are disappointing. Both “Shit in Your Cut” and “Pistol” go a non-conventional route—for Modest Mouse at least. Lead singer Isaac Brock goes for a raspy sounding voice, but it ends up being inaudible and clouds the entire song. “God is an Indian and You’re an Asshole” relies on the repetition of its title for just over a minute. If it fits into the album it’s as some interlude. “The Tortoise and the Tourist” and “Of Course We Know” are both slower and darker and try to tread into a lower range. They leave the listener in a muddled state of confusion to end the album.

Listeners were prepared to welcome Modest Mouse with open arms. But the band has sunken into a haze of experimentation with an album made of a series of bizarre pieces without an overall puzzle to place them in.

Featured Image Courtesy of Epic Records