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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Review: Modest Mouse no longer strangers with new album


    Epic Records

    On March 17, Modest Mouse released its sixth studio album, the first to be released in eight years. Fans heard glimpses of some of the songs on Strangers to Ourselves before the release date at live shows, as was the case with “Lampshades on Fire.”

    Given the length of time between Strangers to Ourselves and Modest Mouse’s last album, We Were Dead Before the Ship even Sank, it’s tempting to wonder how the band’s style might’ve changed in that time.

    The single for the album, “Lampshades on Fire,” is musically similar to an earlier album, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, particularly in the refrain of “World at Large.” But it is clear even in this first song that what Modest Mouse intends to do with Strangers to Ourselves is expand upon its earlier themes, not merely repeat them. While similar to previous songs, “Lampshades on Fire” thematically expresses emotions that encapsulate all of Good News.

    The album floated between melancholy and muted anger, and “Lampshades on Fire” expresses the subtly in its lyrics, moving from one party to the next with no regard for anyone or anything, until one’s lost the ability to stay in one place anymore: “Well the lampshades on fire and the lights go out. The room lit up and we ran about. This is what I really call a party now.”

    The lyrics paint an image of a raging party, whose inhabitants are so fueled up that when the house is exhausted, they want to find the next place to keep the party going. Similar to Good News, particularly “Black Cadillacs,” both songs confront the choices people make, and force them into the foreground when they might ordinarily be muted by an unwillingness to address them.

    This theme appears in “Satin in a Coffin,” where Modest Mouse confronts the inevitability of death: “Now the blow’s been softened, since the air we breathe’s our coffin. Well now the blow’s been softened, since the ocean is our coffin.”

    The evolution from addressing people’s choices to the consequences of their actions can be heard in the last half of “Lampshades on Fire”: “Hair’s on fire, so we’re moving out. Better find another one, ’cause this one’s done. Spend some time floatin’ in outer space. Find another planet; make the same mistakes. Our minds are shattered when we climb aboard hoping for the scientists to find another door.”

    Local musician for Hot Sasha and former student at Berklee College of Music Haydon Ekstrom weighed in on the single and its meaning.

    “That was a really smart decision to make [‘Lampshades’] the single for the album, because it is so reminiscent of the motifs of their earlier albums,” Ekstrom said. “It works for people who are comfortable with that sound, and as they released their other songs, they became more and more different.”

    This musical change is expressed in “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box.”

    “[It] was relieving to fans of Modest Mouse as a sign that they were musically evolving and experimenting,” Ekstrom said, “which is exciting for fans who like the sound of their earlier albums but don’t want to hear the same sounds repeated over again.” 

    He also pointed this out by comparing the new Modest Mouse tunes to Artic Monkeys’ stylistic change in their most recent album, AM.

    Even as its musical style and motifs evolve and change, Modest Mouse retains the same spirit it had in 1997. The Lonesome Crowded West, its second album released, contains many themes relating to the desert.

    “It’s really awesome that Modest Mouse can use desert western themes, like in ‘Cowboy Dan,’ while being from Washington,” Ekstrom said, “because it makes their music so relatable for [us] desert rats.”

    This is evident in Strangers to Ourselves in not only the early releases “Coyotes” and “The Best Room”; the album cover is an overhead picture of Venture Out RV Resort in Mesa, Ariz. 

    Strangers to Ourselves is but one part of a double album to be released as soon as “legally allowed,” as frontman Isaac Brock put it.

    Give Strangers to Ourselves a listen; this desert rat wasn’t disappointed.


    Follow Kaitlin Libby on Twitter.

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