Fans of Modest Mouse have every right to be apprehensive about Strangers to Ourselves. The band never officially broke up or went on hiatus, yet it’s been eight years since their last record. That’s usually not a good sign. A few years ago, news surfaced that Big Boi was working with Modest Mouse on their newest record; the band later admitted that these sessions ‘failed’. The singles released leading up to Strangers to Ourselves were bizarrely flat, sounding like pale imitations of the band that conquered rock radio with “Float On” more than a decade ago. And only last week, frontman Isaac Brock revealed that the follow up to Strangers to Ourselves was already in the works, and hoping to be released ‘as soon as legally possible’ after Strangers to Ourselves comes out. On the rare occasion, this means the band in question is riding a gnarly wave of inspiration; usually though, it just means the band knows the work they’re looking to quickly follow up is weak. Modest Mouse isn’t just another band; their incredible early-to-mid 2000s output is very important to a lot of people. Some bands can get by on mediocrity, but not Modest Mouse. Well, my fellow Mousers, we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief, as Strangers to Ourselves is about as strong a comeback record as we could have hoped for.
That doesn’t mean Strangers to Ourselves is perfect. But the problems are all very distinctly Modest Mouse problems, ones that fans should be used to at this point. For starters, it’s way too long. But that argument could be made for every Modest Mouse record (yes, even The Moon & Antarctica). I understand the desire to make up for the eight year absence with a song dump, but a few of these tracks just don’t need to be here. That being said, part of the charm of listening to a Modest Mouse record is the experience of being submersed completely into their quirky world, for better or for worse.
Strangers to Ourselvesalso continues the trend of their last few records of playing into populist rock tendencies. They’re great songwriters that always bring a unique tinge to even their most straightforward songs, but Modest Mouse are always at their best at their wackiest. The obvious highlights of Strangers to Ourselves are the outliers, whether it be the space-Primus funk of “The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box”, the ambient melancholy of “Of Course We Know” or the Caribbean-laced “Shit In The Cut”. However, their audience is a lot bigger than just us weirdos these days, and a solid chunk of the album is set aside to appeal to more casual, conventional fans. It’s this act of compromise that forms a clear divide in Modest Mouse’s work, separating the discography into Pre-Good News for People Who Love Bad News and Post-Good News for People Who Love Bad News era, and prevents them from achieving masterpiece-levels of quality that can be found in their earlier albums. It’s a sadly tried and true formula that can be applied to a depressingly large amount of bands who got a taste of mainstream success, but at least Modest Mouse does their best to appease fans both old and new.
The best word to summarize Strangers to Ourselves is ‘satisfying’. It’s not up to par with their best work, but no one was really expecting it to be. After eight years of silence and a perpetually pushed back release date, we’re lucky to even have this album. And ‘pretty good’ Modest Mouse is still a hell of a lot better than the best most other bands can do. Isaac Brock has been describing the follow up to Strangers to Ourselves as ‘weird as hell’, and the man seems genuinely excited about the release, a notion that was never really felt in the months leading up to Strangers to Ourselves. Could this successor be the return to indie rock royalty that we’ve been waiting for from these guys for over a decade now? Probably not…but judging by how reinvigorated Modest Mouse sound on Strangers to Ourselves, you never know. Until then, this record will more than tie us over.
Ridiculous Made Up Genre of the Day: anxiety rock