herald

Monday 23 October 2017

pop

Johnny Marr teamed up with indie rockers Modest Mouse in 2006.

The ensuing album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, became the first American No.1 for a band that had been making noise for over a decade. After three years, Marr was off on his travels and Modest Mouse drafted in Jim Fairchild of Grandaddy to replace him.

That was eight years ago. Since then Marr has recorded an album with The Cribs and also released two well-received solo collections.

Modest Mouse spent that time working towards this new album. With fifteen tracks amounting to 57 minutes, their industry amounts to seven minutes of new music a year. But never mind the quantity feel the groove.

Each new track presents like a buzzy pop-up shop, rejoicing in its individuality and its determination to be loved.

process

An initial suspicion that the band is trying too hard is dispelled on repeated listening. Lingering concern for the random blood splatter nature of this creative endeavour is addressed by drummer Jeremiah Green's explanation of the band's writing process. "We play for hours on end just improvising and then come up with a million instrumental parts and maybe 20pc of that becomes songs," he says.

They're mainstream now. Though Irish music fans might wonder why they sound like a turbo-charged version of The Pale's blustery Hungarian cabaret schtick on tracks such as Sugar Boats and Lampshades on Fire.

The jolliness of these new tracks is at odds with songwriter Isaac Brock's darker lyrical content. The frontman's storytelling is a central part the Modest Mouse appeal.

He spends time in the woods worrying about stuff like deforestation and our ability to kill each other. Then he bangs up couplets that hit the spot. "Spend some time to float in outer space, find another planet, make the same mistakes," he sings on the muscular folk dance Lampshades on Fire.

Elsewhere, the lengthy The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box boogies along like Talking Heads in their pomp. With its chiming guitar intro, Coyotes has a weird nursery rhyme quality. "Walking with ghosts in the national parks, Coyotes tiptoe in the snow after dark..."

They push into unexplored musical terrain on Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, Fl. 1996), an exploration of the mindset of the man who shot Gianni Versace.

The noir-ish lyric, strangulated vocal mix and tearing industrial sound is unlikely to appeal the band's new fans.

Sadly, after such a long wait, this feels somehow less than mind-blowing.

HHHII

Strangers to Ourselves (Epic)

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