Modest Mouse Strangers to Ourselves
When a band goes eight years between albums, fans might justifiably expect new wrinkles, if not a complete sonic overhaul, when the long-awaited project finally lands. Not so for Modest Mouse, which stays well within its wheelhouse on sixth full-length Strangers to Ourselves. And that’s not such a bad thing.
The sprawling 15-song record plays like a surprisingly natural follow-up to 2007’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, which nudged the Washington-state favorites toward the mainstream in the wake of 2004 hit “Float On,” even as it stole glances back at more experimental early work. If anything, Strangers takes a few more stabs at the latter, like “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996),” the harrowing—and gratingly constructed—tale of Gianni Versace’s serial killer (which somehow succeeds as a piece of re-listenable music) and repetitive shortie “God Is an Indian and You’re an Asshole” (which really doesn’t).
Most of Strangers’ 57-minute runtime, however, is given over to more comfortably late-era Mousey behavior, from first single “Lampshades on Fire,” a party-starter in the “Dashboard” mold, to pulsating six-minute mini-epic “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box,” seemingly designed to join “Doin’ the Cockroach” and “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” as showstopping centerpieces in the band’s live repertoire.
Better still are “The Tortoise and the Tourist,” featuring leader Isaac Brock’s familiar calm-verse/yelping-chorus vocal pattern, and “Ansel,” the true story of Brock’s brother’s death in a hiking accident. As with every Modest Mouse record, there are skippable tracks (the dull “Be Brave”) along with a certain sense of sameness (haven’t we heard “The Best Room” somewhere before?), and nothing here approaches the band’s absolute best work, oldies like “Cowboy Dan” and “Never Ending Math Equation” and more recent triumphs like “Spitting Venom.” Yet to an extent, Strangers to Ourselves still succeeds, as a reminder that some bands don’t need to change to maintain our attention.