Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
By Zach Patterson Saturday, 7 Apr 2007

It’s been 7 years since Modest Mouse’s major label signing, and 3 years since their large mainstream breakout Good News For People Who Love Bad News, and in that time, the band has attracted a new member, former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, and essentially, created another catchy and high quality album of indie rock.

While I was never a big fan of Good News, it was evident in that album that Modest Mouse was subtly changing while still retaining a lot of what has made them so likable. There were heavy use of horns, much poppier songs like “Float On,” and even a generally happier feel to the album. The sound continues to evolve on this new ridiculously long titled album, but the core there is still Isaac Brock’s emotive voice, excellent songwriting, and great hooks and riffs.

The theme of this album pervades through nearly every song, that being ships, boats, ocean, and travel. Travel, of course, is a familiar theme, and there’s about a dozen other songs from Modest Mouse that involve the theme. While I’m probably not smart enough to get exactly what the meaning of all of it is, it ties all the songs pretty well together, as there’s a pretty wide variety of songs on this album. The first song, “March Into The Sea”, sets up the wide variety, as Brock and company jump from harsh vocals and music to a seamless segway into almost sugary sweet singing and xylophone chimes. It’s the huge contrast that I have always enjoyed about Modest Mouse, the ability to be harmonic cheerful one second and downright dissonant and screaming the next. Then you get instant radio ready songs like “Dashboard,” which I’ll be honest, is about as damn catchy a song as you will ever hear. Other songs such as the end of “Parting of the Sensory” and “Missed The Boat” sound like you should be dancing in the fields of New Zealand while Modest Mouse plays. It’s this hint of folk one second, and then a bass heavy beat and bombastic singing in “Fly Trapped in a Jar” the next that makes this album (and really, all their albums) so interesting to listen to. Their slow songs have always been what have hooked me in the past, and “Parting of the Sensory”, “Little Motel”, and “People as Places as People” certainly are among their better in this category. Brock’s voice in songs like Little Motel have this heartfelt emotion that you can’t help but feel drawn into the mood and the heartbreak he conveys. On “People as Places as People”, you can hear the extent of Brock’s voice, as he sings about barking at the neighbors and transforms his voice into a yelping dog somehow. It’s an entertaining album to listen to vocally, to say the least.

There are some parts of the album where the word choice and song writing feels a little odd (“I’ll be beating my heart’s record for speeding” from “March Into The Sea” is a groaner, “Steam Engenius” is a terrible pun and hard to sit through), and there’s also a few generic and unmemorable songs littered throughout the album. Oddly, there are times when this album recalls the sound and feel of Funeral by The Arcade Fire, which, while a great album, isn’t quite what I am looking for in a Modest Mouse album. The addition of James Mercer of The Shins on a few songs seems a little superfluous as well, but never really hurts the songs, as he’s backup to Brock’s commanding voice.

This album really is just another solid Modest Mouse album. It’s hard to find a lot to hate, and there’s definitely a lot to like. A good example is the song “Spitting Venom.” While I initially didn’t care for the opening of the song, there was this beautiful horn solo in the middle of the song that really changed my mind on it. It’s very minimal and emotional for such a simple section of the song, and I listened to it a few more times and began to like the song more and more. The interesting dynamics of the song raise it from one I didn’t care for to a song I now appreciate a lot more, even at its long running time (over 8 minutes). While most people will not like everything on the album, it is really hard to not like it at all. A great album, and one of my favorites of this early year 2007.


One Response to “Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank”

  1. Kirk Bray Says:

    Yeah this album is so-so. Good though. The songs are very poppy, which is a far cry from what Modest Mouse was supposed to be all about pre-lonesome crowded west I guess. Not that it matters a lot, but the character of a lot of there sound is sort of magoo now. Plus there are like 20 people in the band now compared to 3. I hate to use the word “sellout” sound because thats stupid, but I think this album screams it. That doesn’t make it necessarily bad, but I think the thing that was great about Modest Mouse is that they sounded shitty in many ways, and I liked it.

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