“Heart Cooks Brain,” the second track on Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West, reveals the band’s rhythmic genius, the strength of many of its finest compositions. Drummer Jeremiah Green has always been an integral component of the band’s success (which is why it was so distressing to many fans to see him momentarily depart for personal reasons circa the 2004 album Good News for People Who Love Bad News). Here, Green lays down a stuttering, hip-hop influenced breakbeat backbone for frontman Isaac Brock’s spiraling guitar work and cyclical lyrics. Yes, that’s even a bit of turntable scratching you hear in the distant reaches of the mix. That subtle bit of atmospherics—combined with Green’s head-nodding beat—hints at the musical eclecticism that marks the Modest Mouse catalog.
Still, slight genre-blurring aside, “Heart Cooks Brain” finds its place cemented squarely in the center of Modest Mouse’s songbook. A Brock riff that scales up and down the neck: check. Imagistic lyrics about despair and loneliness: check. A tight rhythm section enviable to any other band playing music: check. The song opens with—as any superfan would hope for—some harmonics, with Brock yelling a few feet away from his microphone, “A slow walk / It’s landmines”. Other than that moment of increased volume, Brock and his band keep things toned down here. It works: “Heart Cooks Brain” is about yearning, absence, and the dullness of depression, and the band’s right to play it close to the chest.