This is the first edition of a new series of posts here on Airwaves. In ‘The Full Picture’ we will look over a notable alternative artist’s entire discography and note how the sound evolved from album to album, as well as pointing out each album’s best tracks using the magical powers of hindsight. The perfect starting point for me with this is to cover my favorite artist out there: Modest Mouse. All the EPs and every album (just not the two cassette tapes from 1993), starting off with…
The first release for the band is an EP in 1994 named after the title track “Blue Cadet 3-Do You Connect?” and it packs five songs into 7 minutes and 34 seconds including a minute long intro for “It Always Rains on A Picnic“. On this first EP Modest Mouse is incredibly depressing in it’s song topics already, with the aforementioned title track existing as a question to a man lost in space being followed by 30 seconds of silence. The ending track “5-4-3-2-1 Lipsoff” is a thirty second track where we get Brock giving social commentary for the first time, as he makes jokes in the background and references his own lisp before ending the EP with the most profound statement on the album “Whatcha want, whadayou want from outer space?”. Overall some of the best qualities of Modest Mouse are present on this release, but the band wasn’t able to really write a full song at this point.
Track Picks: “Dukes Up“
It’s hard to fathom what a gigantic step forward the band took with this release, and the progression is obvious the second that you hear the opening guitar on “Dramamine”. No wasted time, some anger, and a decisive message in the music. You get to hear Brock get pissed off on this album through tracks like “Breakthrough” and his f*** you message to the people fleeing Washington to California, “Beach Side Property” (really one of two on the album along with “Head South“). Another really interesting thing which develops on “Beach Side Property” is how the rocking track where Brock opens with a loud, throaty scream, suddenly slows down and turns into Brock incorporating a religious metaphor into the song. This album is the first time that the band incorporated the religious theme into their music and it proved to be a topic where Brock was very good at displaying his viewpoints. Another huge difference between this was how Modest Mouse jammed, as they’re only one on Blue Cadet-3 was on “It Always Rains on a Picnic” which was noticeable more mellow. On This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About (TIALD from here on out) the more rock oriented jams show up to establish Modest Mouse as what they truly were, a 90s alternative rock group who was capable of morphing their sound into the other genres as well.
Modest Mouse’s second EP released is what they’re demo tape was, and it contains some great Modest Mouse songs on it like “Edit the Sad Parts”, “Whenever You Breathe Out, I Breathe In (Positive/Negative)” and “Broke“. Still, I’m not going to go into this EP because all of the songs found their way into another album where they are better known and more easily identified, and this EP is viewed nowadays as more of a collector’s item than anything else.
An odd but fun EP, Modest Mouse became a lot more accessible on TIALD but opted to explore some of their more experimental sounds on this EP. The short noise tracks are present again like they were in the earliest stages with tracks like “Sunspots“, “Fruit” and “Way Down“, but we also get some different versions of the band on display. “Karma’s Payment” shows something catchy and lighter in tone even if the message is still depressing, and “The Fruit that Ate Itself” sounds like they’re actually trying to incorporate a hip-hop influence onto the track. Both of those are still good, fun tracks which exist alongside two good ones that have a definitive alternative rock feel to them: “The Waydown” and “Sunspots in the House of the Late Scapegoat”.
In my opinion this album is the band at it’s peak. Everything comes together to form a beautifully diverse and thoughtful album about the destruction of the west, religious doubts, and drug use. So many of the songs that define the band are present on this album, the fan favorites being “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine”, “Cowboy Dan” and “Trailer Trash”, and the full product of how these songs interact to create The Lonesome Crowded West is something special. It was a truly cohesive album where so many great tracks ended up fitting together to highlight the energy of the band and Brock’s abilities as a song writer. On this album he effortlessly finds a way to turn every line into a metaphor or a joke to represent the a futile attitude which is present in so many Modest Mouse tracks. This is the album where they say the most out of anything in their catalog, and considering they’re catalog that’s saying a lot.
An EP which would eventually see it’s tracks get split into two later releases, The Moon & Antarctica and Everywhere And His Nasty Parlour Tricks.
A compilation album which features some great tracks that just never seemed to fit onto an album. The lack of cohesiveness hurts it, but it’s certainly not a bad album because the tracks on it are still great, they just don’t fit together as nicely as they could. I wouldn’t listen to this album as an introduction to the band, but if you enjoy their music and haven’t given this album a listen yet then I would highly recommend changing that.
Critically adored and for good reason. The Moon & Antarctica showed the most accessible Modest Mouse songs yet by just letting Brock talk about his philosophy on religion while leaving most of his anger at the door. This leads to some absolutely gorgeous songs, as Brock tells us about how “Gravity Rides Everything” and “The Stars are Projectors”, and with these beautiful moments on it it’s not difficult to understand why so many view it as the premiere album by the group. The Moon & Antarctica is a fascinating work and a good listen for anyone who enjoys free thinking about religion, with Brock offering his viewpoint with lines like “an endless ocean landing on an endless desert/ Well it’s funny as hell but no one laughs when they get there/ If you can’t see the thin air then why the hell should you care?”
You may remember the first EP that we covered in this article, Blue Cadet-3 Do You Connect?. Sad Sappy Sucker is the album that blossomed out of that release and was supposed to be the band’s debut, but it was never released until 2001, presumably because of a decision made by their label. The great thing about this release is that you get a look into early Modest Mouse again, and it serves as something which can explain the gap in sound between Blue Cadet-3 and TIALD. Every song which was on the Blue Cadet-3 found it’s way to this release as well as a few songs which were even less polished (personal favorite in this category: “Classy Plastic Lumber“), but there were also more signs of legitimate songs being introduced like “From Point A to Point B“, “Every Penny Fed Car” and “Mice Eat Cheese“. This album is a good one to spin if you’re trying to hear the weird, short, and fun Modest Mouse tracks which they did earlier in their career, but if you’re looking for the more polished sound you should look elsewhere.
The most under-rated Modest Mouse release, Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks is an EP consisting of outtakes from The Moon & Antarctica. What it ends up sounding like is a cross between the aura which that album carried with their previous sound explored on The Lonesome Crowded West. Is it as good as either of those albums? No, but that’s because those are two classic albums, and hearing great qualities from both of those albums side-by-side is a great listen for the songs which probably bridged the gap in sound.
I swear that I will cover this album objectively, but understand that it’s a difficult thing to do as a fan because this album was in many ways the end of an era. The music is still heartfelt and thoughtful, but the pure anger was seemingly gone and all of a sudden the song chosen to represent the band’s discography was named “Float On“. That track is nice and fun, but you could never convince me that “I backed my car into a cop car the other day/ well he just drove off sometimes life’s ok” is the lyric that should come to mind when you think of the band. That’s where the frustration stems from, I’m willing to concede that I like the song but if you’re referencing a song or lyric by the band then it shouldn’t be from a song which exists in contrast to the rest of their discography. The sound on this album became more produced and pretty which really helped to market it to a larger audience, and it got other good songs exposure in “The Ocean Breathes Salty” and “The World at Large”. It’s a solid listen and the beginning of what I view as Modern Modest Mouse (MMM).
I actually love this album even if it was a continuation of Modern Modest Mouse, because this one combined some of the crazier aspects of the band with their new polished sound and found that people still really liked it. The first song entitled “March Into the Sea” starts with Brock yell-rambling “Treat me like disease, like the rats and the fleas! AHAHA! AHAHA!” before getting into a swooner a minute later with “I’ll be beating/ a heart’s record for speeding”. This was the album where Marr stepped in and apparently played a part in creating “Dashboard” as him and Brock just played guitar parts back and forth until they landed on it. That song does a good job of highlighting the fact that Modest Mouse does deserve to be relevant in pop culture while also highlighting how hysterically awkwardly Modest Mouse fits into that position with the music video which accompanied the song. Another great return on this album is that there are once again some long Modest Mouse jams present with the tracks “Parting of the Sensory” and “Spitting Venom”, and perhaps the softest Modest Mouse song that they’ve ever released is present in “Little Motel“.
This is the most recent release by the band and was really just an attempt to get some new music to their fans. It features eight tracks which didn’t make it onto We Were Dead or Good News, so they became re-polished and re-released as a series of singles and collective EP. Because of that the sound is all over the place on this EP, from the simplistically pretty “Autumn Beds”, to the sea-captain style “King Rat”, to the experimental “The Whale Song“. In terms of a full release it’s to disjointed to enjoy as a full product, but as a fan I respect them trying to put out more songs which otherwise wouldn’t have been released.
My Ranking of the Releases
1. The Lonesome Crowded West
2. The Moon & Antarctica
3. This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About
4. Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks
5. We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
6. Building Nothing Out of Something
7. Good News For People Who Like Bad News
8. Interstate 8
9. The Fruit That Ate Itself
10. No One’s First and You’re Next
11. Sad Sappy Sucker
12. Night on the Sun
13. Blue Cadet-3, Do You Connect?