By Alexa Solis
It’s been eight years since indie rock group Modest Mouse has released an album. As expected a drought of new music has led to a fair amount of speculation regarding the album that finally graced us with its presence last Tuesday.
“Strangers to Ourselves” is by no means a revolutionary look into Modest Mouse, or even an adequate representation of what the band is capable of. In the group’s 21-year history, it has made the transition from indie labels (K Records and Up Records) to major label Epic Records as well as garnering popular and critical acclaim along the way.
Modest Mouse is a band with a reputation to uphold, and many were hoping that they would exceed that reputation by leaps and bounds. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for “Strangers to Ourselves.” Although it was far from being a bad album, it was as equally far from being good. Instead it managed to plop into the middle of the road with very little to differentiate it from the band’s previous work.
Over the years the group has become an indie institution in its own right and part of that was its incisive lyrics and distinctive sound. While quintessential and overt grit is still the basis of their music, the lyrics on the album simply fall short of what Modest Mouse has produced in the past.
There are no lines or quips that resonate with the listener in a way that fans have come to expect from the band. However there are some standout tracks on the album that hint toward some glimmers of hope for future releases.
The short but glittering track “Ansel” is particularly refreshing, not just for the album, but in the grander scheme of things as well. With steel drums and a melancholy narrative, the song makes a case for being the best track on the album. The winsome steel drums are in stark contrast to the tragic tale of Ansel, the narrator’s brother.
“Pups to Dust” is another track that manages to stand out from the rest by taking the quintessential Modest Mouse sound and adding to it with varying compositions and overdubbing. “Coyotes” and “Lampshades on Fire” are also tracks that showcase the indie-rockers at their best. In this case, the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” mentality works in the record’s favor.
However, there are also some spectacular failures in the 15 tracks. “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)” is one such flop. From the opening half marching, half dance beat drum fill, the song is jarring and gruff in the most unappealing of ways. It’s a case of a mechanical dance tune ruined by frontman Isaac Brock’s guttural expurgations. In short, nothing about the track works in harmony and instead makes a bit of a messy listen.
The twisted carnival tune “Sugar Boats” is almost as jarring though not quite as abrasive as “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996).” Instead it’s merely another case of an experiment gone wrong for the group.
The rest of the album remains fairly innocuous. It is neither so bad it becomes distracting, or so good that it would garner further attention. “Strangers to Ourselves” is a fairly underwhelming album when there was all the potential for a great one. However, all hope is not lost. Brock alluded to the swift release of a follow-up album, and perhaps this is just a warmup for the band. Perhaps Modest Mouse is merely shaking off the cobwebs and revving up for a victory lap.
Alexa Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @thealexasolis.