Isaac Brock claims the Pixies as a seminal influence on Modest Mouse’s sound, and Frank Black and co.’s general blueprints can be found in much of the band’s material: Brock’s sing-shout vocal style, the similarly soft-loud dynamics of his group’s music itself, the overall focus on guitar, guitar, guitar. Still, beyond this shared DNA, the Pixies’ grip on Modest Mouse’s collective brain doesn’t usually seem too overt. The band even seems to acknowledge that split on “Head South”, when Brock sings, “A surf rock band / From the land of plenty / Surf rock bands / With no surf, just pine trees.” In other words, Modest Mouse is missing that one crucial element of the Pixies’ formula: Joey Santiago’s riptide-ready fretwork. These dudes are from the Pacific Northwest—they’ve got evergreens in their sound, not board shorts.
“Shit Luck” is somewhat of a different story. No, you won’t mistake Modest Mouse for the Del-tones here. However, the track might be the closest thing to a Pixies song the band’s ever recorded. The arpeggiating riff that anchors the song sees Brock going as far as he’ll go toward aping surf-ish repetitive tremolo picking. It’s surf rock filtered through the dusty grit of The Lonesome Crowded West. Think rolling waves of cars on the highway instead of fresh blue-green salt water.
“THIS PLANE IS DEFINITELY CRASHING!” shouts Brock to open the song, in a way that begs for capitalization. The rest of his lyrics proclaim similar bursts of, well, shit luck. “THIS BOAT IS OBVIOUSLY SINKING!” and “THIS BUILDING’S TOTALLY BURNING DOWN!” follow up. The matter-of-fact statements and slightly off-kilter rhythm in Brock’s delivery echoes Frank Black, too, in its lightly funny, lightly frightening tone. Brock ups the ante beyond Black’s usual ironic detachment by finishing on “And my / And my / AND MY / AND MY/ AND MY HEART IS SLOWLY DRYING UP!”. All of the sudden, the music—up until this point completely bash-and-slam repetition, all squelching guitar and abused snare—cuts out. Both the black humor and the undeniable adrenaline rush of the track get instantly sucked away. We’re left with a stark feeling of having run out of time, Brock bringing his metaphors of destruction into clearer light. It’s not a subtle song, but it’s one that saves the final punch in a series of body blows for the very last second.
// Notes from the Road
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