Music

A Long Drive: Modest Mouse - "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine"

Corey Beasley kicks off a new Between the Grooves series here at Sound Affects that takes a detailed look at indie rock group Modest Mouse's 1997 album The Lonesome Crowded West. In this first installment: "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine", a song of singular force that introduces Modest Mouse as a talent impossible to ignore.


Modest Mouse

The Lonesome Crowded West

Label: Up
US Release Date: 1997-11-18
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Modest Mouse, more than perhaps any other band, embodies the strange place indie rock has come to occupy in the 21st century. It is, of course, no longer an “indie” band by definition—the group is signed to a major label and has seen an enormous amount of crossover success. The group's 2004 song “Float On” went from quirky single to near ubiquity in a matter of months, while We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007) debuted at a surreal number one on the Billboard charts. Though a guest spot on The OC and allowances for its songs to be used on American Idol and, why not, Kidz Bop earned the band plenty of ire from indie purists, Isaac Brock and company had long solidified their place in the contemporary canon before they actually started selling records. The Moon & Antarctica (2000) blew critics’ minds wide open with its hallucinatory edge and indelible hooks, and the album handily topped many of those recent Best of the Decade lists. To many fans and critics alike, The Moon & Antarctica represents Modest Mouse at its best, giving us the band’s purest synthesis of ambitious artistic sentiment and irresistible pop songcraft. That may be true, but the band laid the groundwork for that stratospheric success in the equally seminal 1997 album The Lonesome Crowded West. If Moon sees Isaac Brock lifting himself above the Earth into full-on acid prophet mode, The Lonesome Crowded West has him firmly rooted on solid ground, an American visionary of singular strength.

If anyone claims Issaquah, Washington, as a place unlikely to give a rock band its start, do your part and correct them. Issaquah, hailed by Brock as the type of deadly boring suburban wasteland that America so excels in creating, typifies the kind of setting that could breed the restless ingenuity he and his band have managed for nearly two decades now. Brock writes songs about sprawl and distance, both emotional and physical, and the scenes in New York or Los Angeles would’ve been too urbane, too cosmopolitan, to birth the group. Modest Mouse is the anti-Brooklyn band. Brock’s country-fried roots, his wholesale incorporation of banjo-and-brass Americana, his bizarrely Southern accent: these are not borrowed Bushwick affectations, but the product of his trailer trash (to borrow his term) childhood in Issaquah. He is a blue-collar poet in the best American tradition, and The Lonesome Crowded West is his opus.

It’s all here in the opener "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine". Jeremiah Green’s thunderous drumming, Eric Judy’s expert counterpoint bass work, Brock’s intuitively inventive guitar riffing, his voice’s ability to go from a desperate lisping howl to a startlingly understated tenor in a single breath—“Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine” brings them all front and center, right away. “From the top of the ocean / To the bottom of the sky / Goddamn, well, I get claustrophobic / I can, you know that I can”, yells Brock, cramming as many syllables as he can into each second. He’s introducing the album’s titular conundrum, the seemingly conflicting feelings of intense loneliness and paranoid claustrophobia that life in the sprawl can bring. Over an impossibly thorny riff and his band’s stop-start lurching, he screams out a series of imagistic portrayals of seething frustration. “You’ll burn me in effigy / And I’ll burn you in effigy”, he sings, “A rattlesnake up and over in Montana / He bit the leg of the old sheriff / Ha!—that boy fell down on his hairlip!” The lyrics are plainly non-narrative, but together with the music they create a patchwork of resentment so intense as to beg not for white-knuckled tension but bloody-knuckled release. “I feel dizzier by the mile”, he admits, and we do, too.

If this were the only emotion cued by the song, we’d still have to laud the band for such a pure expression. However, “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine” is the type of multi-suite epic in which Brock specialized in his early career, and soon he and his bandmates slow the tempo. Now Brock sings—really sings, in a voice seldom appreciated for its fragile beauty—in a more reserved manner, one that mirrors the shift in tone the song undertakes. Here, we move from boiling anger to self-reflective guilt, an emotional trajectory familiar to anyone who’s experienced such feelings—which is to say, to all of us. Brock nails that depressive transition, singing, “Oh, if you could compact your conscience / Oh, and you might / Oh, if you could bottle and sell it… / Save it for another time / You know you might have to use it”. The real target of his frustration comes home: he’s angry with himself, and he can’t convince himself or his conscience that any other individual really deserves the blame or the loathing at hand.

Once Brock has opened himself up to this feeling, the song dives headfirst into a palpable ache. He uses his beloved 3/4 time signature and harmonics to coax that feeling out of his guitar, while singing, “And the television’s on / Go to the grocery store / Buy some new friends / And find out the beginning / The end, and the / Best of it”. Crucially, he doesn’t try to oversell these emotions with his voice, keeping his tone understated and plaintive. “Well, do you need a lot of what you got to survive?” he asks. These lines, the closest thing the song has to a chorus, give such a vivid picture of American isolation that one has to wonder how Brock, only 22 at this point, could have managed such prescience. The clinical glare of the television and the supermarket’s fluorescent lights mixed with the surreal idea of buying new friends, the effect of the commodifying influence of America’s consumer culture—it would be a wonder of subtly wrought poetry for a man twice his age.

He continues his indictment of buy-and-sell ethics, introducing “The man with teeth like God’s shoeshine / He sparkles, shimmers, shines”, before proffering the idea, “Let’s all have another Orange Julius / Thick syrup, standing in lines”. Brock’s ability to personify the isolation and emptiness of stripmall culture in such pointed images lends him the authority possessed by the greatest of disaffected songwriters. “The malls are the soon-to-be ghost towns”, he exhales, “Well, so long / Farewell / Goodbye”. And then the song rebuilds its pace expertly, building again to the furor of its introductory salvo. His self-loathing and impotent frustration in his surroundings exorcised for the moment, Brock’s angry again. He screams to an unnamed audience, most likely a faceless vision of the neighbors with whom he can never connect: “Or you could add it up and / Give a shit / I’m on the corner of this and this and this and this!” The song fades again into its chorus, and by the time Brock tells his listeners that “The telephone goes off / pick the receiver up / Try to meet ends / And find out the beginning / The end, and the / Best of it…” we’re ready for it to end on that note of despair. Instead, he and the band lead us into a final two minutes of screaming, wrenched guitars, and pummeled drums, as if they could beat themselves and their instruments into some kind of self-flagellating penance, a way to earn them an escape. It’s a seven-minute trip of singular revelation, and it introduces Modest Mouse as a force impossible to ignore.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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