Monday, June 3, 2013

Modest Mouse- The Lonesome Crowded West

       I think I'll give some personal background on this one before I dive in to telling you about how much I love this solid block of work. I am Layser Gun, and following the last of my IB exams I decided that I had never given Modest Mouse the fair attention that they deserved; I have no collection of what pushed me into following this assertion, but I'm glad that whatever did had done so. This is essentially what gave me the stern kick I required to begin converting people to the fellowship of Modest Mouse three short weeks ago, and this album has been on constant replay since initial listen on my laptop. If you want an extensive background on this album's history, I suggest you watch the Pitchfork Classic documentary on YouTube or the "Untitled" documentary, which is also on YouTube.

      This album was an answer to Isaac Brock's growing dissatisfaction with the westward expansion of capitalist structures in the beautiful west that took place in the late 20th century. The paving of once beautiful scapes that would soon be occupied by shopping malls rather than wildlife. The album also demonstrates Isaac's dissatisfaction with organized religion, the corrupt quality of religious icons and figures, and the deterioration of his belief in God. The lyrical content of the album also encompasses themes like isolation, traveling/touring on the road, vehicle issues, people-watching (in a similar fashion to bird watching), self-loathing, and the evil of man's touch on nature.

      Musically, the album is an answer to the music of the Olympia, Washington independent music scene's brand of Post-Hardcore mixed with indie bands like Built to Spill (a two sided admiration for one another's music is revealed by leaders of both bands in the documentaries aforementioned), as well as a continuation of the more mellow indie/alternative music demonstrated in the band's previous efforts (the harmonic riff prevalent in "Dramamine" from the band's first full length returns in the first track "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine" from this album in a more intense and harsh manner demonstrated by Isaac's flailing on the tremolo). The album is produced by renowned music producer, founder of K records, DIY figurehead and leader of bands such as Beat Happening, the Halo Benders, and Dub Narcotic Sound System: Calvin Johnson as well as Isaac Brock, and Scott Swayze. The guitar playing often consists of highly dissonant, yet strangely mellow riffs accompanied by harmonics, droning breakdowns and speedy octave runs as well as the pumping power chords. Bass riffs played by Eric Judy normally stay in the higher register of the bass guitar or follow Isaac's suit, and Drums are played in an almost dance oriented fashion with a loose feel but hold the momentum of the song. Isaac has stated that he would allow the rhythm section to run off into jam-like tangents and follow the suit of his band-mates with rhythms that would simulate that of his fellow companions.Vocally, Isaac runs from his calm, lisp latent voice to a scream that retains the melodic structure of the song.

      The album starts out with a bang on "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine" in what Isaac has stated is a summary of the album to give listeners a feel for what the rest of the album will be like. The song is somewhat of a symphony in itself, in which the band switches furiously between fast paced and then slow droning tempos in an instant where Isaac runs off on lyrical tangents about abstract concepts, but primarily criticizes the power companies and mall moguls that are destroying his hometown and the American west, for not only do they rape and pillage the land, but the malls are left as "ghost-towns" when their proverbial wellsprings dry up. Isaac makes mention of a specific chain known as, "Orange Julius", a smoothie chain that made concoctions he felt were disgusting and, in the song, drinks a toast with the fallen moguls and his raped land with the syrupy nectar with this poison. The song, more or less, demonstrates all of the aforementioned musical techniques in an epic-like manner.

      On "Heart Cooks Brain", Isaac uses a myriad of similes to compare his heart and brain which are symbiotic beings that hurt and harm one another "My brain's the cliff, and my heart's the bitter buffalo", "My brain's the burger and my heart's the coal". He also makes observations from the loft at the top of the band's van about the scenery of Vancouver, Canada while revolving around a little riff in the high register of the guitar and the rhythm section follow in a slow tempo.

      "Convenient Parking" is a tune about boredom in a parking lot, lamenting on how mediocre touring is. Traveling from one abandoned parking lot to another, sleeping in a van and bleeding out your feelings on a stage just to do so again on the same stage with a similar, unsympathetic audience.

      "Lounge (Closing Time)" is essentially the first upbeat song on the album. It displays a flurry of upbeats from Isaac's guitar that are fairly dance-able, which was the intent on many of the songs aside from just the usual hardcore slam-dancing. Lyrical content encompasses the life of a woman who is assumed to be the girlfriend of the narrator who runs off into the city to cheat on her partner, use heroin, "And they all went down and did the porcupine, And everybody was feeling high", and dance. All the while, the narrator is away to think of his love.
       "Jesus Christ Was An Only Child" is an acoustic tune accompanied by mountain style violin/fiddle. Isaac explains that Jesus Christ was a child just like any other that ran off and could potentially get into danger just like any other, whilst his parents work hard to make pay but must also ensure the safety of their child, which the planet relies on according to the angel's prophecy. Sub-stories are those of children that are harmed/die due to parental neglect.

      "Doin' the cockroach" was written whilst the members of Modest Mouse were "People Watching", where they observe the adornments of every day citizens on the subway/train and explain these random citizens careers and ask that the whole quiet themselves about how important they are, that they are so pretentious talking about themselves and their careers. The cockroach was intended to be one of the dances that the album produced amongst the fans. The lyrics are also about the ever presence of religious figures, how they instill the fear of their watchful eyes that are omnipresent and omni-powerful, "I was in heaven, I was in hell. Believe in neither, but fear them as well." In this song, Isaac assumes the character of the religious figures he still fears.

     "Cowboy Dan" was written about a friend of Brock's father, who is nothing like the character the lyrics portray, which are of a power mad cowboy leader who wants the whole of his peers to be at his whim, and start wars at his fancy, "He hops in his pickup puts the pedal to the floor and says "I got mine but I want more". Well, Cowboy Dan's a major player in the cowboy scene, he goes to the reservation drinks and gets mean. He drove the desert, fired his rifle in the sky and says, "God if I have to die you will have to die". The track is a criticism of political and tyrannical figures in general. In the end, Cowboy Dan is overcome by the power of westward capitalist expansion, "I didn't move to the city, the city moved to me, and I want out desperately".

     "Trailer Trash" is a reflection of Isaac on the trailer park he used to live in, which is also the first track on the album he wrote. It initially surfaced on the first demo tape, and floated around till the band saw fit to set it to an official release. The track is one self-depreciation, depressing past reflection, and a cry for redemption from his friends and family, even if they are the ones who hurt him.

       "Out of Gas", "Long Distance Drunk", "Shit Luck", and "Truckers Atlas" are reflections on the long tours that the band took across the country in the most literal sense. They are in succession from the band's former full length, which also reflects on similar topics. The band's van was subject to a number of breakdowns on the road and required fixing on multiple occasions, sometimes in the same day. The final track of the four is a jam of epic proportions that is the longest in the band's discography. All of these are meant for long distance drives, as they are written for this purpose.

       "Bankrupt on Selling" is my personal favorite track on the album, where a flurry of acoustic chords subtly shift from a pure major to a major seventh, or a minor to a suspended 4th. The lyrical content is what really wins me over though. Isaac assaults the religious world as being one of angels who'd, "Sell off your soul for a set of new wings and anything gold". The religious pure, are actually revealed to be sellouts, corrupt and willing to lie, cheat and steal for any possession, especially if it means ridding them of the listener.

       I've probably listened to this album about 20 times in the last week or so, and it improves upon each listen, because I can understand and identify with it more so. I suggest you lend it your ear soon and enjoy this masterpiece of Olympia's classic underground phenomena. The following years have been kind to the band and allowed them to achieve critical acclaim, justly deserved with a masterpiece like this in their repertoire. I can't wait for the new album. ~ Layser Gun



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