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ISSUE 120 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 3/23/2007

Modest Mouse stays afloat

By Alyssa Kleven
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 23, 2007

Modest Mouse re-enters the musical arena with their fifth full-length album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. With the large commercial success of their previous release, Good News For People Who Like Bad News, the bar is set high for both industry and fan expectations. We Were Dead might provide the follow-up that Modest Mouse need, to keep their indie cred while still producing an album accessible for the music world at large.

Good News dropped in 2004 to applause from both Modest Mouse and MTV fans. The airtime on Top 40 stations and that legendary music video channel brought Modest Mouse the success in the mainstream that they had only seen on smaller circuits before. This was due largely to the catchiness of their first single, “Float On.” On the new album, the first single, “Dashboard,” shows the same commercial promise as “Float On.”

The pulsing guitar beats of “Dashboard” compliment lead singer Isaac Brock's distinct voice, expanding on the familiarity of the success of “Float On.” Horn motifs during the verses, as well as pop vocal styling, make the single accessible to indie and pop fans alike. The lyrics, characteristic of many Modest Mouse songs, are dark in content, but the group is able to keep the meaning and the pulse fairly upbeat. Instead of “The good times are killing me,” listeners get the “would've been could've been, worse than you would ever know.” But listening to the song, we discover that it wasn't as bad as it could be.

The same could be said about We Were Dead. Such commercial success on their previous album could have raised expectations too high, and many bands melt under the pressure of a previous successful album. For example, The Killer's fall release, Sam's Town, failed to live up to expectations. Modest Mouse waited three years before releasing their follow-up, and it was time well-spent.

The longest track on the album, “Spitting Venom,” seems to be the most reminiscent of classic Modest Mouse. An acoustic guitar combines folk and rock elements, until it moves into a hard rocking chorus. “Spitting Venom” jams to the lyrics, “Think it over,” and, unlike the single, instrumentation takes center stage to lyrics in moments of hard-hitting guitar.

The album as a whole has a solid flow. There are no abrupt breaks or any need to skip over certain songs, though, if the commercial industry does pick up on Modest Mouse again, chances are you might have to turn off your radio with Top 40 consistency every time you hear “Dashboard.”

Other gems on the album include “Steam Engenius,” which features a solid, rockable beat and vocals asking “what's the use?” That use would be to rock hard. And they do, also on a track entitled “We've got everything,” a song that has the kind of party music that audiences would definitely like to jam to “down to a science.”

Apparently the ship hasn't hit the iceberg yet, and Modest Mouse fans should be thankful.

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