Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)

This weird little number is my favorite song from the new Modest Mouse album. It’s my favorite, obviously, because it’s the weirdest. Now, I loved the new Modest Mouse album. But I also heard the criticism that it wasn’t nearly weird enough. That’s a valid point; compared to their early work, it wasn’t very weird. It just sounds like a Modest Mouse album, of which there have been enough that we’ve become used to what Modest Mouse sounds like and are now desensitized to how weird the Modest Mouse sound really is even at their most radio friendly. When you delve into it, though, you may recall that Modest Mouse is actually one of the most gratifyingly weird bands to ever enjoy semi-mainstream success in this weirdness-averse godforsaken country. So basically, you gotta take your critical consensus with a grain of salt. Look at the big picture. Take in the broader context. And this song is just genuinely bizarre. Should’ve been, could’ve been the lead single. It would sell!

Oh, and by the way, does the name A. Cunanan ring a bell? It certainly does for me. Andrew Cunanan was the serial killer who murdered Gianni Versace.

Perfect Disguise

And now, your daily Three Minutes of Alienation, courtesy of Modest Mouse. Alienation can then slide into petulance. I don’t give a damn about you or this town, either, so there. It’s not something we ever grow out of, either, though petulant angst is most often associated with adolescence. I mean, I’m a lot more mature than I was when I first listened to this record, but I still feel the same things about it. Namely, at last here is a voice I can relate to as a brainy person with a  lot of words who thrives on being frustrated with the alien landscape around me. Here, at last, is a record that’s not about the usual dumb shit. That was, let me remind you, nearly 17 years ago, but the usual dumb shit is still the norm, and Modest Mouse still provides that rare reprieve from it. Of course, a great many great people have been content to write boy-meets-girl songs for year after year, and what’s wrong with that? But it’s also nice to put on a record where the singer’s love life isn’t the topic of conversation, but his intellectual life very much is.

People As Places As People

Typical depressing Modest Mouse. This is, like every Modest Mouse song, about alienation and the search for connection. Or, you could look at is as the opposite. You can see it as kind of uplifting. As in, the only place worth being is where the people we care about are. Also, try to unpack the video while you’re at it. Modest Mouse have a great track record for surreal video that are equal parts comical and disturbing. This one seems to have a lot to say about love, prejudice and ecology. In fact, those are pretty heavy handed themes. But it’s also a little funny in its weirdness. It’s on point with the theme of finding someplace or someone to belong to, and how hard that is, and how weird.

Parting of the Sensory

Another lovely song about death. Is every Modest Mouse song about metaphysical angst? Sure seems like it. It’s hard to think of a songwriter less interested in the usual about-a-girl stuff than Isaac Brock. Relationships are almost everybody’s biggest theme, even the most misanthropic people haters’. But almost every Modest Mouse song is about something existential. If it’s not about straight-up dying, it’s about how much life sucks, or how much Isaac Brock hates people, or how much Isaac Brock hates himself. I get the feeling he’s probably not the most fun guy spend a lot of time with; one of those people whose head you really wouldn’t want to get inside. On the other hand, it makes Modest Mouse one of the most uniquely rewarding bands of our time. You can explore their records again and again, for years and years. You can always enjoy the friction of uptempo and gloom.

Paper Thin Walls

“Laugh hard, it’s a long ways to the bank.” – the words of a man making his first major label record. Sounds like Isaac Brock had some ambivalent feelings about impending success, but that didn’t stop Modest Mouse making the journey from indie-darling to almost-mainstream. According to my non-scientific field research, The Moon & Antarctica is very nearly everyone’s favorite Modest Mouse record, or certainly one of everyone’s favorites, however you want to parse the data. For a lot of us who didn’t have easy access to the independent-music scene, it was our first Modest Mouse record, so you see, the financial/promotional muscle of a major label still has its uses in this world. That was 16 years ago – if you wanna suddenly feel very old – and the beginning of a run of really great albums that defined the decade.

One Chance

It’s weird to think that Modest Mouse may already be nostalgia music for some people. But they’re a ‘new band’! So much time has passed! This album came out the year I turned 21, which, obviously, is kind of a formative age. I experienced a huge wave of music discovery around that time, adding more new groups to my roster of favorites than I ever thought possible. Aside from making the kind of poor decisions that you don’t know are going to completely derail the course of your life, you spend your early adult years just learning to be a person, and the tastes  you pick up should, if you’re lucky, stay with you for the long haul. So many things have fallen away since then; acquaintances, possessions, habits, brain cells, time zones. Many memories have had to be willfully blanked out; mistakes learned from, or not. I feel no warm, fuzzy feelings, no nostalgic glow for those years. But I remember listening to Modest Mouse on road trips, back when driving from one state to another with a box of CDs was somehow a feasible activity. I don’t go on road trips anymore, I don’t own CDs, I don’t live in the same state, I don’t talk to the same people. But I still listen to Modest Mouse like they’re new.

Ocean Breathes Salty

Modest-Mouse-Band-Wallpaper

“You wasted life, why wouldn’t you waste death?”

I listened to this song many, many times before it dawned on me how existential it is. It’s just so flippin’ cheery! You bop around and sing along and you don’t notice that you’ve just delved into depths beyond what the average pop song has to say. Modest Mouse long ago graduated from being an underrated indie band, but popularity aside, I still think Isaac Brock deserves a lot more credit for his lyrical delvings. I mean, I wasn’t planning to sit and question the true meaning of existence this morning, and now I am. What does it mean to waste one’s life and what constitutes making good use of it, anyway? You certainly can’t make that judgement for another person. I’m not sure you can even make it for yourself. Am I going to lie upon my death bed and regret that time I didn’t steal that one guy’s fancy watch while he was asleep? (I deeply regret not having stolen that guy’s watch.) Most people would say the obvious thing – that how well you’ve lived your life depends on the difference you’ve made in the lives of others. But what if you were unhappy and unfulfilled the whole time? What if you regret having raised all of those children when you could’ve been doing something nice for yourself? Did your grandmother, on her last day alive, look around at the family she raised and secretly decide she would have been better off if she’d taken a bus to Hollywood like she had dreamed of doing? The inevitable conclusion, I guess, is that the value of your life is what you make of it, because life has no inherent value.