Release Date: Mar 17, 2015
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Although they weren’t exactly prolific before, the eight years it has taken Modest Mouse to release their sixth studio album is twice as long as any earlier hiatus in their 20-year-plus existence. All the more curious as 2007’s We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank topped the Billboard Hot 100, so the band can hardly be accused of cashing in on their success. Having slowly but surely developed from cult indie band to major-label platinum-seller without losing their quirky character, it seems they didn’t know what direction to pursue.
It’s been seven years since Modest Mouse last released an album but, as Isaac Brock sings ‘so easy to forget, how often we become susceptible to regret, I do regret’ over desolate strings on the title track that begins ‘Strangers To Ourselves’, his almost spoken Issaquah voice full of melancholy and wisdom, it feels like they haven’t been away. That 2007’s ‘We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank’ was number one in the US might explain the pressures that led to them taking seven years to put a new record out (though there was also 2009’s ‘No One’s First and You’re Next’ EP). They even cancelled a tour in 2013 to finish this album.
If ever an artist were to plan an eight-year wait between releases, following Modest Mouse's lead would be a wise move. Not that anyone should ever aspire to such a thing, but while it's taken Isaac Brock and company nearly a decade to follow up 2007's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, the band have done an admirable job remaining in our consciousness through consistent touring, reissuing old material and giving updates from the studio.Like their other three Sony full-lengths, Strangers to Ourselves is an ambitious studio album that suggests there was a lot of thinking and tinkering done. Surprisingly, with five producers credited, the 15 songs aren't as disjointed a bunch as they should be.
Modest Mouse want you to know that, as human beings, they’ve got some regrets and they’re still fucking up. Strangers to Ourselves, their first album since 2007, is a fight to the death against the kind of sepia-toned nostalgia that any band hitting their 20-year mark has the right to claim. Its songs thrum with vigor and eagerness, feelings that maybe only a long hiatus can muster.
Modest Mouse are legends of the indie scene but have been absent from said scene for 8 years. To a dude like me in his mid-30s, maybe that doesnâ€™t seem that long, but shit, some kids have gone through both high school and college since 2007â€™s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank was released. Damn. So much has happened and been forgotten about since 2007.
Modest Mouse return from years of silence with maturity and sophistication, but maintain their established patterns of building worlds within their songs. Strangers to Ourselves is an album noticeably moodier than their groundbreaking '00s output. Not that the indie trailblazers have ever been cheerful, but surely there is a pragmatic optimism behind songs like "Float On," or "Fire It Up." .
Modest Mouse’s sixth proper LP, Strangers to Ourselves, doesn’t just feature a clever moniker. The concept is a recurring theme, opening with the title track and later popping up in lyrics as the band unveils 15 new songs. But Modest Mouse in 2015 aren’t solely strangers to themselves, they are strangers to their fans, too. There have been eight years between proper LPs, and some people who came to the band as college-aged fans in their heyday are now entering their 30s.
Modest Mouse’s 22-year career to date is something of a Cinderella story. Despite a frontman in throaty philosopher Isaac Brock who sounds like Tom Waits shouting into a wood-chipper; despite a consistently wonky sound that’s evolved from awkward fuzzbox pop (2004’s ‘Good News For People Who Love Bad News’) to sea-shanty concept albums about drowned sailors (2007’s ‘We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank’); and despite the gloomy, fatalist streak to their lyrics, the Washington scrappers return from an eight-year break a weirdly mainstream concern. Their songs have been covered on American Idol.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Strangers to the rest of us, too; as by now is well-documented, this is the first new Modest Mouse record in eight years. Johnny Marr, who was part of the lineup on 2007's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, has had time to join and then leave another band in the interim, and the lengthy delay is made all the more intriguing - or frustrating, depending on your perspective - by the fact that we don't really have a straightforward reason for the layover; the band have continued to tour on and off, even if they did line up a lengthy run of UK dates for the summer of 2013 before canning them because - you guessed it - they needed more time to work on their next record.
Modest Mouse have been working on their new album for longer than many bands have existed. The breadcrumb trail of news reports depicting their progress over the years—they were recording with Krist Novoselic and Big Boi; they were switching producers—gave the worrying impression of a band that maybe didn’t know what the hell they were doing. In 2013, they canceled a tour to hit the studio, and somewhere in there founding bassist Eric Judy quit the band.
When I were a lad, the five-year-gap between the first and the second Stone Roses album was an almost mythic thing, a part of their legend. Post-Chinese Democracy it's maybe a bit less impressive, but even so – a band spends that long away and people notice. It’s remarkable, then, that it’s somehow been EIGHT years since the last Modest Mouse record.
Welcome to alternative rock's Chinese Democracy. Modest Mouse's sixth studio album is the Washington state band's first full-length work of new songs since 2007; it may also be the longest hour of music you hear this year. Singer-songwriter Isaac Brock and drummer Jeremiah Green, aided by a cast of dozens, including the Shins' James Mercer, have stuffed Strangers to Ourselves to infinity with textural detail and manic leaps in style: the chamber-folk title song, the rococo hip-hop of "Lampshades on Fire," the '79-Talking Heads sprint "The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box." The effect is a riot of craft that never coheres but rewards committed listening, thrilling in bolts and spurts like a good multiband compilation.
Perhaps the success of "Float On" discombobulated Isaac Brock even more than we suspected. Surely, there were signs of aimlessness on We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, the 2007 sequel to the surprise 2004 smash Good News for People Who Love Bad News, a record where hired gun Johnny Marr was brought aboard to give the band a jolt. This booster shot wore off quickly and Brock receded from the spotlight, sitting out the better part of a decade before re-emerging with Strangers to Ourselves in the spring of 2015.
Review Summary: Why would we ever want to wake up?Modest Mouse just may be the quirkiest band of our time. Issac Brock’s ability to transition seamlessly between pirate-like squawks and genuinely heartfelt insight is not a line easily toed, yet he’s done it for almost two decades now. They’ve also jumped all over the map stylistically, from the rambunctious and free-spirited flow of The Lonesome Crowded West to the more reserved psychedelic ponderings of The Moon & Antarctica.
On Strangers to Ourselves, Modest Mouse often come off like strangers to themselves. For a group that has maintained such a distinctive musical profile for so long, there’s something about Strangers to Ourselves that makes it feel like it’s the work of a band in flux. The process of making Strangers to Ourselves seems to reflect the chaos and indulgence you hear in the first new album from Isaac Brock and company in eight years: With an initial attempt to make a new record with Big Boi scrapped along the way and after founding bassist Eric Judy left the group in 2012, Strangers to Ourselves was finished, with the help of four outside producers, after Brock built his own studio/hang-out space out of an old factory in Portland.
Washington-based Modest Mouse made unlikely US mainstream stars in the late 00s, their rhythmically idiosyncratic take on indie only slightly sugared by Johnny Marr’s guitar contributions. Their first album following an eight-year hiatus again favours shape-shifting inventiveness over accessibility, and discord over melody. And yet repeat listens reveal much to enjoy here, from the off-kilter disco beat of The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box to the quiet beauty of the title track.
In 2011, a story emerged that Isaac Brock had written a bunch of songs with Outkast’s Big Boi, prompting speculation as to what crazy direction the sixth Modest Mouse album could be heading in. Well, four years later we have our answer: it sounds a lot like previous Modest Mouse albums. Big Boi’s influence – which promised a “big-ass brain-stormin’, tsunami, typhoon, tectonic-plates-movin’ kind of thing” – is nowhere to be seen; instead there’s plenty of jerky indie-rock.
The cover art for Strangers to Ourselves, Modest Mouse's first album in seven years, is a satellite image of the Venture Out RV Resort in Mesa, Arizona. The layout is strikingly geometric, as the facilities, lots, and driveways together form a perfect octagon. As an RV resort, its parts are autonomous by default, and scattered quirks are visible all around.
Despite all that’s transpired since the release of We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, as far as Isaac Brock’s little corner of the musical kingdom goes, things haven’t changed so much as blossomed into something that 2007 only hinted at. The world we live in now is one that Modest Mouse helped to create. The break-out success of 2004’s “Float On” cleared space in the mainstream for some of the friendlier sounds from the margins of millennial rock, a space that Arcade Fire paved over and built a monument on when the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences threw a Grammy at them in 2011.
Don’t call it a comeback: Modest Mouse will be the first to tell you that it never really went away in the first place. The group just stopped making records for a while, taking on the right mix of touring, soundtrack work, and home-studio construction to stave off an official hiatus. The band’s long-awaited sixth album appears after a gap roughly equal to the time between 1996’s debut This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About and 2004’s crossover success Good News For People Who Love Bad News—a span of stunning creative progress and two intervening masterpieces.
opinion byBRENDAN FRANK It’s a little disconcerting to consider that I have been waiting for Strangers to Ourselves for my entire adult life. When Modest Mouse released We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank in March 2007, George W. Bush was president, Twitter was a fledgling and Vladimir Putin was awaiting coronation as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.
Expectation’s a bitch. We all know the routine…acclaimed indie band goes big league, pissing some original fans off mostly out of principle, gaining new ones after getting on the radio, then takes a break. A long break. And now, after that break, is the return…and what of this return? Modest Mouse’s indie classics of the ‘90s, and even their first big boy label release, The Moon And Antarctica, stand as pinnacles of modern rock.
Eight long years since their last album, the Washington State collective's sixth LP reveals limited departure from their hard-set macabre rock. Like 2004 commercial breakthrough Good News, March's 15-track Strangers to Ourselves commences dainty, frontman Isaac Brock's telltale lisp the gentle opener's sole MM feature. Next, "Lampshades on Fire" reroutes manic in buoyant, jangled glory, its spat verses briefly softened by a staccato pop "ba ba ba" chorus.
Isaac Brock's vocals have always been an appropriately abrasive counterpoint to Modest Mouse's wounded-animal riffing and surging rhythm section, but they do a dangerous amount of heavy lifting on the band's sixth full-length. The 'roided-out production squashes the group's dynamic range and tonal palette into dull-roar wallpaper, and Brock's voice (now scoring Anthony Kiedis-level numbers on the Rappin' Dad Index) is ever-present on top, his chewin'-on-garbage turns of phrase inescapable for a full hour. Songs you'd expect to swell and boil over - which is what Modest Mouse are good at - often end up trudging humourlessly (Ansel, Be Brave), and things get far worse in the moments where humour is actually the goal.