Modest Mouse Comes to Charlottesville: A Review of their Latest Album
All photos taken by Jack Looney.
On October 26 indie-rock band Modest Mouse performed their new album, “Strangers to Ourselves” at the Charlottesville nTelos Wireless Pavilion for a sold-out show. After an eight-year hiatus, Modest Mouse is back to making the music that is familiar to their fans. Their sixth and latest album is 15-tracks of heavy rock-driven tracks that are characteristic of the bands previous work.
While this latest album is a welcomed return for the band, there seems to not have been much growth in their time off. The album is composed of more contemplative songs about the same existential crisis in the band’s previous albums like, “Good News for People Who Love Bad News” (2004) and “The Moon & Antarctica” (2007). Their song “Sugar Boats” was even an uncharacteristic pop style equivalent to the band’s massively popular 2004 hit “Float On”.
Just like previous Modest Mouse albums, the songs are basically about human existence having no purpose and life being a monotonous drought. Tracks like “Be Brave” and the title track, “Strangers to Ourselves” really depict this message in old-school Modest Mouse fashion. Repetitive phrasing like “From day, to day, to day, to day to today/We carry, we carry, we carry our own weight” in “Be Brave” resembles the line about being “stuck in traffic” in “Strangers to Ourselves”. Most all songs depict this purposelessness of life, but that theme is nothing new for Modest Mouse. The songs that varied from this are “Coyotes” and “The Best Room”, which are more about degrading human behavior and intentional ignorance. Overall, it was comforting to hear that Modest Mouse has stayed true to their original kind of music even after such a long break, but it was unexciting. I wanted to hear about new experiences and new ideas. After taking a break from music that should have provided inspiration for unexplored themes, but they reintroduced the same stale messages about life that could be heard on literally any other Modest Mouse album.
Modest Mouse’s concert at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion reflected the troubled theme of “Strangers to Ourselves”. Lead-singer Isaac Brock embodied “troubled” when he yelled incoherently at the crowd and made frequent mentions of drug use. The performance felt like he was trying to reclaim what the band was in their heyday, but it seemed like a tired routine. Not to mention, the crowd could never understand what Brock was saying, leaving everyone in a state of confusion that brought the mood down. He tried to appeal to an audience that he has not connected to in eight years and there was a definite disengagement between the band and their fans.
During the concert, people were leaving, presumably because most people assume Modest Mouse produces light pop anthems like “Float On” without knowing that their work is generally heavy and depressing. Once they finally played the fan-favorite “Float On”, the crowd- for really the first time in the night- got excited. For Modest Mouse fans this album works. It is the same music with the same meanings that the band produced eight years ago.
That being said, this album lacks the kind of growth you would expect from artists after taking such a long break. Modest Mouse said in a Reddit interview that they worked alongside Outkast’s Big Boi while making this album. However, the band admitted that there was no Big Boi-inspiration on this new album and they may save that for later. They should have used the new, creative perspective from Big Boi because the album could have really benefitted from that. Had the band ended up experimenting with Big Boi’s style I think it would have been a lot more interesting and exciting than how “Strangers to Ourselves” turned out to be.
Overall, I would have liked to hear something a little less hopeless or even just a sound that was a little more inventive and experimental. The music is solid and well-produced, but again, it’s something for true Modest Mouse fans to enjoy. Maybe now that Modest Mouse has rediscovered their fervor for making music, they will feel more comfortable diversifying their sound which is necessary if they wish to stay relevant in today’s music industry.