August 3, 2016 Modest Mouse – Strangers To Ourselves (Album Review)
In 1992, in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington, a band was formed under the name Modest Mouse by then teenagers Isaac Brock (vocals, guitar), Eric Judy (bass), and Jeremiah Green (drums). Coming a long way from the early days, sustaining various line-up changes, the now veteran outfit consist of Brock, Green, along with Tom Peloso (bass, horns, vocals, fiddle, keyboards), Jim Fairchild (guitars, vocals), Russell Higbee (bass, guitar, vocals), Lisa Molinaro (strings, bass, vocals, keyboards), Dave Brozowski (drums), and Ben Massarella (percussion). To the average person, this means little, but to those in the know, they are aware Modest Mouse has expanded and brought with them a sound that is one of a kind.
Having released a series of successful albums through the years, including platinum selling 2004 effort Good News for People Who Love Bad News, Modest Mouse continue to truck on with new and exciting music. That in mind, the band most recently re-released their 2009 EP No One’s First, and You’re Next on April 22nd, and 1999’s EP Night On The Sun on July 29th. Delightful for fans to revisit the band’s earlier works, it must not be overlooked that in 2015 they released an extremely special album in the form of Strangers To Ourselves. Their sixth overall studio album, Strangers To Ourselves was released on March 17, 2015 via Epic Records and features a litany of musicians.
It all begins with the title-track, “Strangers to Ourselves,” where tingling bells and violins are soon joined by mellow vocals as well as a soft drumline creating a warped effect. Then comes “Lampshades On Fire” with peppier beat as well as bouncing guitars and vocals to match. Deeper pitched vocals contrast with softer, high-pitched vocals, creating a unique dynamic. With a slight scratching, “Shit In Your Cut” comes in with a darker tone as the contrasting vocals return and an understated echo only serve to add to the flavor of the track.
Continuing the journey,“Pistol” begins with an old school style drum beat and sassy warped vocals, giving a crazy, melodramatic feel to the track as the lyrics help seal the image of a confused drug-fueled experience. Thereafter, “Ansel” channels the band’s unique sound with lighter notes and funkier beats mixed with, yet again, darker tones. Here the story told is one of Brock’s own brother, Ansel, who died in an avalanche and reminds that no one can ever really know how much time they may have left. A telling fact, “The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box” kicks things up a little with a fast pace and Rock styled guitars. As vocals chime in, they follow the funkier tempo as the words harkens back to older Modest Mouse stylings.
Slowing things down a little, “Coyotes” features an acoustic guitar intro and maracas creating a reflective nature with haunting colors laced throughout the track. Coming back with a bit of Funk, “Pups To Dust” possesses a somber mood as warped guitars add an otherworldly quality to the song as the the vocals add the balance. For “Sugar Boats,” they choose to open with an old-time saloon style piano before the guitars add a Rock flair between the drums and vocals as a strange image is conjured up. Keeping the mood rather diverse, “Wicked Campaign” comes at the listener with a futuristic sound as a slow beat plays before frantic vocals join. This is all while the instrumentation create a gorgeous backdrop to lyrics that could be construed as speaking on an aspect of the human condition.
Bringing on a harder beat, “Be Brave” feels like a ’50s style piece as vocals chant “Be brave,” over and over again, even while lyrics illustrate how small humans are. Keeping a sense of humor, “God Is An Indian And You’re An Asshole” begins with rewinding effect and pulls influence from older Country style sounds. A short track, the lyrics are very simple, with the title of the track telling most of the story, followed with “get on your horse and ride.” In contrast, “The Tortoise And The Tourist” comes in with strange high-pitched guitar and crashing drums that fade down into a slower beat. Here, the verses illustrate man’s priorities, in a cool modish way. Perhaps one of the more upbeat offerings, “The Best In The Room” features a bright mood as the track showcases the absurdities of today’s society, while simultaneously illustrating the thought that humans are really only evolved animals. On that note, Modest Mouse closes out the album with “Of Course We Know.” Begun depressing and slow, quiet echoes create a feeling of floating while watching everything unfold in slow motion.
In true Modest Mouse form, Strangers To Ourselves delivers oddity, once again, as the soundtrack to considering who humanity is in a way that is strangely attractive. Fans will find the album to be a renewed sound that is still undeniably Modest Mouse with each note, lyric, and vibe. Those who may have missed its release a year ago should pick it up today, and for those who were undecided on their feelings of the album’s direction, should most certainly give it second thought. CrypticRock gives Strangers To Ourselves 5 out of 5 stars.