Modest Mouse: A Singular Review

The first band to make an everlasting impression on me was Modest Mouse. They were my first: my first concert, my first band t-shirt, my first (new) vinyl. I can vividly remember the first time I heard them on mainstream radio. My ex-boyfriend and I were driving down Geary in San Francisco, and I screamed so loudly he almost veered out of the lane. We immediately pulled into the Tower Records outpost near Mel’s Diner, and I proudly bought the first CD to gain them far-reaching recognition–Good News For People Who Love Bad News.

A lot has changed since then. Different boyfriend, different car; Tower Records long since in the grave, and it’s Geary store closed to become a carpet store, and ultimately its current incarnation: a Chase bank. I don’t fervently love Modest Mouse as I once did, but this is not because I’m so effected as to dump a favorite indie band once it’s gone mainstream. Rather, the Kerouac-obsessed teenager that feel in love with them grew up, and became a 30-year-old with a more complex agenda.

Seeing them perform at First City Festival a few years back was quite the anachronistic experience as my memories met the present state of things. The venue was huge compared to the dives in which I’d formerly seen them around Los Angeles, although the crowd was just as stoned and amorous. The production was vast, with a coordinated light show and the stage populated by a million instruments, musicians, and sound techs–a far cry from the homeless guy they adopted and performed with many moons ago, and the handful of well-worn guitars that accompanied them.

In short, the music was a far cry from the raw garage rock I’d worn out in my childhood bedroom and experienced in the Los Angeles of yesterday. This, however, is the inevitable progression of things as artists mature into different states of minds and their music follows suit. When I began to part ways with Modest Mouse, I was also a far cry from that suburban Los Angeles bedroom, and moving north had matured my priorities as I immersed myself in local San Francisco music–national commodities be-damned! But Modest Mouse and I didn’t break up, we were just on a very long break.

“The Best Room”, the first single off their forthcoming album Strangers To Ourselves, has brought me back into the fold. It showcases everything I love about Modest Mouse: Brock’s digestibly intellectual lyrics and devil-may-care delivery, with all its transitional cracks; those stuccato guitar riffs that are undeniably Modest Mouse, and are perhaps the part of their music most influential on succeeding bands; and the abrupt ending that is jarring, and lingers in the silence after the song–so disrespectful to traditional songwriting, and utterly memorable.

While I don’t foresee myself playing their newest album with obsessive repetition as I did with This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, I do intend to buy it and savor it with nostalgic appreciation. Because Modest Mouse has traveled far, seen much and endured more, and come out on the other side in command of their own sound–a feat not replicated by many a 1990s wunderkind in the lonesome crowded west of popular music. And there’s definitely something to be said for that.