Through hundreds of raucous live shows and two late '90s album releases, Modest Mouse achieved regional cult status with an alternative yet honest rock sound that was both buzzy and cacophonous and also an acquired taste. But these Pacific Northwest cult heroes turned into international indie rock luminaries with a string of pop hits and a couple of ultra-successful, major-label releases, by toning down the frenzy and concentrating more on the songwriting without compromising their unique strain of experimental, lo-fi post rock. So when the release of The Golden Casket was announced, along with a pledge from head mouse Isaac Brock to not play guitar on the band's seventh studio album, fans and critics alike were left wondering if Modest Mouse would build on the pretty pop and epic hooks of recent past successes or if they would revert back to the more introspective, peculiar, and frazzled rock of less successful, but equally compelling, releases.
Despite its somewhat cheeky title, The Golden Casket finds Modest Mouse steeped in optimism. The veteran indie-rock band has come a long way since 2015's Strangers to Ourselves, a long-gestating project that had frontman Isaac Brok flustered with everything from environmental issues to corporate greed—expressed in his usually tangled, scattered thoughts. But it also showed how the Pacific Northwest troupe had settled comfortably in a musical sense despite its 77-minute runtime, proving that no amount of guest musicians or producers can substitute great songwriting.
An unexpected triumph
When Modest Mouse began their rollout for The Golden Casket, everything pointed to it being a flop - perhaps even an unintentionally hilarious one. The lead single and arguably the worst track here, 'We Are Between', did little to quell concerns. Considering that Modest Mouse's production had already slowed to a crawl (two albums in thirteen years), and that those rare releases illustrated a worrying eagerness to rehash their glory days, the band appeared primed for a slow descent into middle-aged, post-prime purgatory.
Time is now part of Modest Mouse's process. During the band's early peak, they raced out three monumental albums in five years--long, sprawling records, seemingly confined only by the capacity of a CD--along with troves of great EPs, rarities, and odds and ends. But after "Float On" elevated them to alternative rock's A-list, the spigot slowed. It took the band eight years to complete 2015's Strangers to Ourselves, and although Isaac Brock promised another album "as soon as legally possible," it took them another six years to finish The Golden Casket.