Music

Modest Mouse: No One's First and You're Next EP

Joshua O'Neill

Modest Mouse's new album of B-sides and outtakes feels in no way like a collection of castoffs.


Modest Mouse

No One's First and You're Next EP

Label: Epic
US Release Date: 2009-08-04
UK Release Date: 2009-08-04
Amazon
iTunes

Modest Mouse’s fourth album, 2004’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, arrived at an odd, off-kilter moment in pop history. The walls between the mainstream and the underground had come unexpectedly tumbling down. Suddenly the freaks were storming the gates and such unlikely stars as the Arcade Fire, the Walkmen and Death Cab for Cutie were garnering radio play and album sales. The cause is unclear. It’s possible that the teen melodrama The OC is a much greater cultural arbiter than most of us would like to admit, or else it’s just a cyclical thing, no different from the grunge explosion that had the record-label suits raiding the Pacific Northwest, signing everybody in a flannel shirt and dirty jeans, or the early '70s, when the hippies and weirdoes reigned supreme. In any case, we had such a moment about five years ago, and it led to the supremely weird spectacle of slouch-eyed, misanthropic indie heroes Modest Mouse being covered by the entire cast of American Idol in a Ford commercial.

Singer Isaac Brock and his band of unmerry men walked right into the bright lights, unblinking. Good News… happened to be their catchiest and most accessible album, but it didn’t represent a major departure from their jerky sound or ramshackle aesthetic of millennial dread, speedball anxiety and gut-bucket poetry. It did boast the single "Float On", an ice cream cone of a song, their most delicious and hopeful track to date, a magical pop number by a little indie band that improbably found its proper home on the radios and in the ears of millions of listeners. But "Float On" was an anomaly -- becoming the owners of a smash hit single didn’t turn Modest Mouse into a pop group. By the time their next album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts (!), they were largely back to their old miserablist antics.

Their new mini-album, No One’s First and You’re Next, is a collection of odds and ends, recent singles, B-sides and outtakes. These are leftovers? They don't sound like castoffs to me -- they sound like album tracks. Half of the songs here are as good as anything on We Were Dead.... Impressively, these eight songs that didn’t make it onto the LPs could serve as a primer for Modest Mouse, showing a skillful and idiosyncratic band at the height of its powers.

Brock's trademarks -- his half-swallowed yawp, his catchy little melodies that get bitten off before they're able to resolve -- have been slightly toned down, but they’re still ever-present. "Guilty Cocker Spaniels" is one of the best showcases yet for his charming bozo squawk, as he yelps the talk-song at you, lending the shaggy-dog lyrics a palpable urgency. Brock sounds like the cranky drunk at the end of the bar, holding forth hilariously and slightly annoyingly on his philosophies and grievances, until, out of nowhere, a battalion of Johnny Marr’s buzzing guitars storm the place, nearly drowning out the semi-coherent rambling. It’s an unexpected moment, two unrelated songs suddenly colliding like ships in the night, neither willing to give way to the other. They somehow carry on together, half broken, sailing slowly off into the dark as the pieces fall away.

The rollicking, melodic “Autumn Beds” proves that even on auto-pilot, Modest Mouse can deliver the goods. Armed with little more than a lovely meandering banjo figure, a mellow country-rock rhythm and an endlessly repeated lyric ("We won't be sleeping in our autumn beds."), the track is unassumingly beautiful, pretty in a way that the group rarely is. Brock's increasingly willing to lay down his quirky vocal tics and just sing, reaching for something elegiac and lovely, if only for moments here and there. It’s a track that reminds you just how little these people need in the way of tools. Their usual moves -- Brock’s anxious staccato guitar lines and odd vocals, Jeremiah Green’s rubbery, jazz-influenced drumming, strengths on display throughout the record -- are conspicuously absent for this one track, and it’s one of their best. Maybe that explains the little grace notes, the sly smiles, the hints of increasing mellowness and accessibility that have begun seeping into Modest Mouse albums. Growing more comfortable with their talents, maybe they’re learning that you don’t always have to work so hard and worry so much. Sometimes, you can just float on.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image