Opinions Were Like Kittens, I Was Giving Them Away—A Guide To Modest Mouse

By Gwen Reid, Feature Photo via EW

Since their formation in 1992, Modest Mouse has burned brightly, releasing influential, poignant music that comforts souls and dances in eardrums. I started my love affair with the band when they played a live set on the television drama The O.C. at the bar where Seth Cohen worked. And let me tell you, from that first encounter, I’ve never met a Modest Mouse song I haven’t like. Their sound is evolutionary and experimental without losing frontman Isaac Brock’s signature raw and explosive lyricism and dynamic, powerful guitar melodies. Modest Mouse knows the human condition, and through their ability to portray lonesome nights and depict disconnected relationships they provide solace to listeners. It is both unsettling and comforting to see yourself so clearly expressed in music.

Here’s a guide of distinguished band from Seattle to help you navigate the daunting and vast discography they have put out over the years.

“Dramamine” – This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About

The first track from their first studio album (released in 1996), “Dramamine” is a plucked waltz that navigates themes of travelling, confusion, and quarrelling between lovers. A showcasing of a smudged, soft version of a typical Modest Mouse song with driving guitar melody and Brock’s haunting shouts. It also carries one of my favourite lines: “we kiss on the mouth but still cough down our sleeves.”

“Positive And Negative” – Interstate 8

A muddled, scratchy track that expertly expresses depression and hopelessness, this song appears on the 1996 EP Interstate 8 as well as the later compilation Building Nothing Out Of Something. Isaac Brock’s relatable and evocative lyricism shines; the frontman’s description of a time of change mirrored in the movement from the clashing, throttling chorus to the guitar’s clear melodic line.

“Edit The Sad Parts” – Interstate 8

This is my favourite Modest Mouse song, a lost gem from their second release in ’96. With one of the prettiest guitar parts I’ve ever heard, it builds, ebbing and flowing through to an urgent meeting of strumming and plucking.

“Lounge (Closing Time)” – Lonesome Crowded West

“Lounge (Closing Time)” begins urgently, with shouts bounce off insistent, energetic guitar before the entire thing melds into a swaying, viscous swirl of vocals and gentle, subdued music. It then grows to a crescendo of thumping drums and guitar strums, reaching a break of soft cooing by Brock and a female voice over slow plucked guitar. “Lounge” shows off the dynamism of Brock’s vocal range and the contrasting emotions it can portray.

“3rd Planet” – The Moon & Antarctica

Beginning with the lyrics, “Everything that keeps us together is falling apart,” Modest Mouse sum up the strife of crumbling relationships. The song’s lilting acoustics converge into the stomping beats and swirling reverb of the chorus.

“Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes”- The Moon & Antarctica

This track, also from The Moon & Antarctica, is a major experimental shift for the band into the otherworldly. Thumping bass and sinister double-tracked vocals make for a creepy, unique tune. Brock’s shouts battle drummer Jeremiah Green’s clashing breaks in this nasty march.

“Baby Blue Sedan”- Building Nothing Out of Something

A classic Modest Mouse tune, it’s really the lyrics that make this one. “I’m lonesome when you’re around, and I’m never lonesome when I’m by myself,” expresses Brock’s fatigue after trying to connect to someone else, realizing that he can find true comfort only in solitude.

“Think Long”- Sad Sappy Sucker

Off the experimental album Sad Sappy Sucker, “Think Long” is a disjointed, short tune. Brock repeats the lyric “ping pong,” the words overlapping and bouncing off each other like a thought in your head. It breaks off to proclaim: “sit and think for a while and you’ll realize that you’ll still die! If you’re not thinking at all I’m not sure why you’re alive,” at once acknowledging and unsettling your existential anxieties.

“Bukowski”- Good News For People Who Like Bad News

I love “Bukowski”; a witty song about the late poet where Brock spouts lines like, “Ya I know he’s a pretty good read, but God who’d want to be such an asshole.” It’s a complex song about Brock’s relationship with society and religion; one comparing his experience of trying to become more palatable to others to Bukowski’s life and works.

“King Rat”- No One’s First And You’re Next

The disturbing music video for this track demonstrates the band’s environmental awareness. Cartoon whales are shown fishing for human corpses, a satirical look at the fishing industry and the horrific death of animals for humans. The music mirrors this feeling with deep shrieking vocals, crescendoing trumpet and thumping guitar.

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