Written Before Listen
Modest Mouse are an indie rock band from the west coast. As a band goes, I’ve listened to some of their albums but I don’t revisit them often. Their debut is probably my favorite from them. I love how stringed out the album is and how intentionally careless they sound. It’s not one of my favorite albums ever but it’s an album that made me recognize their sound in a heartbeat. “The Lonesome Crowded West” was the first album I listened to by them and I don’t really remember much from it due to the fact that I’ve only listened to it once and it was a while ago. Their 2004 album “Good New For People Who Love Bad News” despite being a complete left turn was still a great record. The song “Float On” brings me back to ROCK BAND 2. I think I’ve made myself clear, I’m not a stranger to Modest Mouse’s music but I wouldn’t consider myself a fan yet. I’m just familiar with their sound and aesthetic. With that being said, they just released a new album. Let’s see how much their style evolved.
Modest Mouse is mainly a trio of band members and they are all multi-instrumentalists in their own right. Mainly, its a guitarist, bassist and drummer but there is so much more than that on “The Golden Casket”. There are numerous amounts of percussion and synthesizers all over this thing. The only track that continues on the original lineup of Modest Mouse is the last track. When I say loaded with instruments too, there are a lot of non-musical instruments being credited on this album. Paper bags with wood, mouth percussion, stick bundles, iPad synth, soft drink percussion, space phone, speak and spell and spare change just to name a few. Personally, I respect the percussion choice and the idea of crediting this is very cool because there’s a lot of found sounds in music and people rarely realize it. The problem is the result. It’s very clanky, rickety and cluttered. I do like the “Wooden Soldiers” snare sound which seems to be the stick bundles, an 808 snare, a soda can and finger snaps. Other than that, there really isn’t a found sound that catches me in a good way.
Modest Mouse were a very original sounding band when they came out. Maybe they sounded a little bit like Pixies or Pavement at points but, they were unapologetically Modest Mouse. Fast forward to 2021 and they take a lot of ides from indie acts from the 2000s. Artists such as Arcade Fire, Magnetic Fields and Grandaddy come to mind. There unfortunatley isn’t anything new or groundbreaking on this record. I guess to a degree that songs like “Wooden Soldiers” and “Back To The Middle” are a return to their old sound, but this doesn’t even sound like Modest Mouse anymore. It sounds like a band that were influenced by them and numerous other bands related to them.
There were two main contributors on the production, David Sardy and Jacknife Lee. Sardy has big credit recognition. He has engineered multiple LCD Soundystem releases but has also engineered bands like System Of A Down and Rage Against The Machine. Jacknife Lee on the other hand is more pop centered as he has produced for late 2000s Weezer and Taylor Swift. As you can see, this doesn’t sound like a match made in heaven and that’s because it isn’t. There is a lot of pop sensibilities to this record but that co-aligns with the raw guitars and drums. To sum up the production choices in a nutshell, would be like saying that it’s a blend of indie pop and rock that doesn’t sound accessible to either audience. I would also mention that this thing is unnecessarily over compressed. I don’t if that decision was made by the producers of Modest Mouse, but the dynamic and unexpectency of their early work is completely gone. It’s a god damn shame
Isaac Brock has always been a purely original songwriter. Luckily, that still remains. “We Are Between” , “Wooden Soldiers” , “The Sun Hasn’t Left”, “Never Fuck A Spider On The Fly” and “Back To The Middle” act as somewhat as advice tracks. Tracks that lean towards more of a life lesson than a relatable focus. It might sound preachy with a simple description but Isaac Brocks delivery remains in full shape here so luckily, there is nothing preachy here.
Personally, I wasn’t really big on a majority of the tracks. The only track I can say that I enjoyed was the last track “Back To The Middle”. Maybe its just me but I think Modest Mouse is best when they give space to their tracks and let Isaac Brock’s lyrics breathe. Modest Mouse really loses their dynamic on The Golden Casket
Yeah. I don’t know what happened in the span of 17 years but their music got less and less original overtime. They went from a band who sounded like they didn’t give a damn to a band that tries to make another indie hit song.