Album Review: Modest Mouse, 'Strangers to Ourselves'


Strangers to Ourselves
Modest Mouse, 'Strangers to Ourselves' (Epic)

In "Pups to Dust," the eighth track on Strangers to Ourselves, frontman Isaac Brock says, "The way we feel about what we do is by who has watched us." For nearly four years Modest Mouse have previewed new material at the occasional live show giving fans something to nibble on, a taste of what's to come. "I'm absolutely terrified of making a half-a**ed record," says Brock, who largely (and inadvertently) produced the record. "The longer I waited to put it out, the more stressed I felt about giving people something that was worth the wait." Now, for the first time since 2007, Modest Mouse release their long-awaited sixth studio album, Strangers to Ourselves.

The first single off Strangers to Ourselves was "Lampshades on Fire," and in the context of the album, it remains to be a representative track more lyrically than sonically. Lyrics have always been one of Isaac Brock's strong suits. His cheeky metaphors and powerful one-liners are stronger than ever, but he has a knack for storytelling on Strangers to Ourselves. "The Best Room" was inspired by the Phoenix Lights UFO sighting in 1996, while "Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)" refers to the spree killer. Don't let the story distract you, though. The most jarring part of "Pistol" is the music itself. Former Man Man bassist Russel Higbee (who replaced founding member Eric Judy after he left the band in 2012 to spend time with his budding family) adds a heavy bass line that's borderline industrial. It only makes sense that Ween's Andrew Weiss helped to produce the track, who Isaac Brock liked for being a "hot mess" (he's worked with artists from Yoko Ono to Butthole Surfers and Greg Ginn, to name a few).

"Wicked Campaign," "Ansel" and "Sugar Boats" further demonstrate that Modest Mouse aren't afraid of experimenting in their veteran years. "Wicked Campaign" begins as a breezy, '80s-esque tune that's contrasted with Brock's deepest vocals to date and James Mercer's oscillating croon (Mercer also provided guest vocals on We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank). On "Ansel," Jim Fairchild introduces a hit-or-miss island sound with a ukelele while "Sugar Boats" invites you in to a creepy carnival with horns and cowbell in tow.

However experimental, Strangers to Ourselves is full of tracks that will go down as Modest Mouse classics. "Be Brave" could easily be a B-side to "March into the Sea," the staple track off We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. "Pups to Dust" seems as if it was written to specifically transition into "Whale Song" in a live setting. The intro of "The Tortoise and the Tourist" sounds so familiar that you'd swear it came straight from The Moon and Antarctica. "The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box" is the epitome of Modest Mouse dance-rock that pairs Lisa Molinaro's eery strings with subtle horns. The chimes heard throughout Strangers to Ourselves give even "Sh*t in Your Cut" a little sparkle. "God Is an Indian, and You're an A**hole" validates my theory that Brock has to say "a**hole" at least once per record. And album after album, Modest Mouse prove to be masters of closers: "Of Course We Know" leaves you at Brock's quintessential crossroads of (nihilist) existence.

Perhaps what makes Modest Mouse so interesting is that rather than being compared to their peers, they are consistently compared to themselves. With such an expansive discography (two cassettes, six EPs, six full-lengths and two compilations) it's hard not to compare new Modest Mouse records to old. Strangers to Ourselves shows a natural progression for the band mixed with a little experimentation that's stringed together by hints of riffs of albums past. Different enough to be fresh, but familiar enough to be relatable. It's no stranger. Not to us, anyway.

Modest Mouse will headline Rock the Garden on Sunday, June 21, 2015. Tickets are available on our Rock the Garden page.

Audience ratings for this album

Seventy percent of The Current's listeners who submitted a rating for this album gave it 5 stars out of 5. Poll closed at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 22.

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