It’s been eight years since Modest Mouse’s last album, “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” was released, so when it was announced that they were finally going to come out with a new album, fans were thrilled. First impressions were good, given the first couple songs released, like “Lampshades on Fire,” a fast-paced, groovy indie rock track with some nice reverberated guitar plucking peppered throughout. It seemed like Modest Mouse could potentially be going down a more experimental route, like what they have done for past albums. Then, Modest Mouse made an album that had some hints and leanings toward experimentalism, but still stuck to their usual accessible indie rock/pop stylings.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially considering how great a large majority of the tracks on the album are. “Lampshades on Fire” is excellent, as is “Pups to Dust,” which contains some spacey guitar melodies and harmonics that sound like they could have been lifted from Modest Mouse’s earlier material, although it’s presented in a much more different fashion that’s a bit more in line with their recent material. “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box” has a driving, almost danceable, beat to it, with some relatively standard but well-executed guitar riffs, and Isaac Brock’s manic vocal styling adding a nice bit of bite to it, as it does on other tracks on the album. The more accessible tracks sometimes don’t match the fans’ tastes, as it can be expressed with their track “Coyotes,” which isn’t bad, but the folk-pop guitars, light percussion and overall tameness of the track won’t necessarily win someone over.
However, the first and last tracks on the album are not only both excellent tracks, but also show Modest Mouse going in fairly different directions from previous endeavors. The opener, “Strangers to Ourselves” is probably their most orchestral song yet, with it being very slow, deliberate, atmospheric and very driven by string instruments. It seems like Modest Mouse are embracing a bit more of a slow, dreamy sound, which they pull off quite well. The oddball guitar noises in the background also add a nice touch to a great opener that transitions excellently into “Lampshades on Fire.” The closing track, “Of Course We Know,” is also very slow and dreamy, but it has a much louder and almost psychedelic feel to it. It’s a very unique track, and provides a great ending to the album.
This isn’t to say that the album doesn’t have the occasional blemish. The track “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996),” for example, is just simply annoying. The dance-punk feel of the track is does not go over well at all, and someone decided that it was a great idea to pitch-shift Isaac Brock’s vocals down, which just make the entire ordeal sound completely obnoxious. “The Best Room” is a good track, but it just feels out of place in the album track list, seeing as it’s a poppy, but raucous, bit of indie rock that comes right between the wonderfully atmospheric “The Tortoise and the Tourist” and the closer, “Of Course We Know.”
Some minor gripes about how the songs play out and album cohesion aside, this was a great album overall. Modest Mouse returned with an excellent indie rock album, combined with a bit of indie pop, and some punk rock thrown in for good measure. They also seem to be veering back into a more experimental mindset on some of these tracks, but in a way that doesn’t curb its accessibility. it’s still an excellent album, and, after an eight year long wait, a great comeback.