Modest Mouse | We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (Epic)

weweredeadmouseOn "Parting of the Sensory," a sleepy acoustic is held up by rhythmic claps before jumping into a hoot-and-holler romp, and "We've Got Everything" employs Mercer's yelp to bring the album's most danceable song a little light-hearted charm.

 

The wingspan of success has stretched so far following Good News for People Who Love Bad News that Modest Mouse can probably stand up straight and scratch their kneecaps. Yet, Isaac Brock remains unwaveringly cynical on the band's latest effort, and dammit if he hasn't convinced us, once again, that regret and negativity can be beautifully cathartic in their fracturing nature. After all, the rebirth following each bout of defeatism has worked for the band so far. Recorded in the same studio, with the same producer as the previous effort, the revolving northwesterners are as polished as ever, for whatever that's worth. And if the album's title, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, hasn't made it obvious enough, the subject matter is somewhat of a kick in the face. However, no one else can make little tragedies so appealing, so ruggedly melodic, and so much their own. Modest Mouse continues to sound like Modest Mouse, and the inherent implications of honesty that follow have, and will continue to command attention.

The most noteworthy, and most anticipated, aspect of WWDBTSES is the addition of The Smiths' former guitarist, Johnny Marr, as a "full-blown member of the band," following a successful experiment in songwriting-collaboration with Brock. While Marr's playing doesn't markedly alter the band's sound, his style is a natural fit, and his presence may be most significantly felt as a stabilizing shot in the arm to Brock's often deteriorating musical instincts. Longtime fans will also recognize the return of original drummer, Jeremiah Green (so don't worry, it's still the same band you liked before your mom started singing along to "Float On"). The band's friendly neighbor, Shins frontman James Mercer, also makes an appearance as a backup vocalist on two of the album's more radio-ready tracks, "Missed the Boat" and "We've Got Everything."

Oceanic refrains emanate throughout the album, appropriately accompanying the band's musical style: a contrast of rough waters and early sunsets over cold and mysterious depths. Electric guitars crash like nighttime waves, yet paces can change as smoothly as the swing of a mainsail. Accordion introduces the fiddle-stomping opener, "March into the Sea," as Brock maniacally spews, "Well, treat me like disease/ like the rats and the fleas/ Ahaha! Ahaha!," before bouncing back and forth between lullabies, a repeated ebb and flow found throughout the 14 tracks. What follows is "Dashboard," the upbeat single most likely chosen for what could be confused as optimism…if you don't read too closely.

The album's abdomen is the most casually accessible portion of WWDBTSES, as fluttering guitars introduce an uncharacteristically pretty chorus on "Florida." On "Parting of the Sensory," a sleepy acoustic is held up by rhythmic claps before jumping into a hoot-and-holler romp, and "We've Got Everything" employs Mercer's yelp to bring the album's most danceable song a little light-hearted charm. It's Mercer's other appearance, however, on "Missed the Boat," that provides the catchiest moment, with he and Brock sharing a heartwarming harmony as they sing, "Oh, and we carried it so well/ As if we got a new position/ Oh, and I laugh all the way to hell/ Saying yes, this is a fine promotion!" As far as heavier tracks go, look no further than Eric Judy's badass bassline on "Education," as well as the dreamy, criss-crossing second half of "Spitting Venom."

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is Modest Mouse's fullest-sounding album to date, but their muscle is never misguided. Jumping aboard the steady deck provided by Brock's intensely revealing lyrics, the band and all of its contributors craft an album that grows with every listen, stays true to its artistic instincts, and maintains the course that the band has created for itself. You'd be hard-pressed to find a band this original that continues to build so well, without compromising its identity. A | Dave Jasmon

RIYL: Built to Spill, The Shins, The Pixies

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