Admittedly, I’m a fairly new Modest Mouse fan. Prior to about three years ago, I could not tell you one of their songs aside from “Float On.” I started listening to their Pandora channel as background music while doing homework, and I was hooked.
The problem was, although they had several albums recorded since 1994, they hadn’t released any new material since 2007. I’d been seriously craving some new Mouse tunes. Imagine my surprise in December when I discovered that they released a single, “Lampshades on Fire” in anticipation of their new album, Strangers to Ourselves, set to come out on March 17, 2015. You’ve likely heard this song on the radio, as I’m sure it is likely to become the new “Float On.” Between December and the album’s release date, they debuted five total singles off the album.
The release had surprisingly little hype and attention given its fan base, perhaps overshadowed by Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” that came out the day before. Nonetheless, Strangers to Ourselves is definitely worth a listen.
When asked about the band’s lengthy hiatus, lead singer and songwriter Isaac Brock said that they didn’t want to release songs just for the sake of releasing songs. They wanted to take their time and give their listeners quality music. And that they did. This album was well worth the wait.
One of the aspects of the album I am most impressed with is the environmental themes in the lyrics. Modest Mouse has always been different from most mainstream bands in that their lyrics are about more than relationships and sex. Their lyrics are poetry, and many of their old songs focus on such topics as blue collar and rural lifestyles, consumerism, philosophy and religion, human psychology and the negative effects of substance abuse. Brock attributes this to his upbringing, as he grew up in a self-proclaimed “hippie commune” in Helena, Montana. While several of their old songs reference the environment, Strangers to Ourselves’ lyrics seem to be much more aggressive and straightforward than those of the past, and their goal seems to be raising awareness about environmental issues.
Their first music video from the album, published on Jan. 19, is for the song “Coyotes,” which features such lyrics as, “mankind’s behaving like some serial killers / giant old monsters afraid of the sharks.” The video depicts a coyote riding on a train and “dreaming” about being in the woods. It was inspired by an actual coyote that walked onto a train in Portland in 2002. The video and song send a clear message about deforestation and hunting. On the Modest Mouse Spotify album commentary, Brock explains that one of his biggest wishes is that we could figure out a way to live with the natural world, instead of on top of it.
One of my personal favorite tracks is called “The Tortoise and the Tourist.” Its focus is on how tourism is harmful to the environment, but it does so using a story. It tells of a tortoise who had a shell covered with jewels and knew the secrets and intricacies of the universe. The tortoise met a “tourist” and the tortoise offered to tell the man the universe’s secrets. Instead, the man killed the tortoise, took his shell and walked off singing like it was no big deal. This is a metaphor for how humans are constantly using earth’s resources without appreciating their beauty.
Now some of you might be thinking, “I don’t care about the environment!” or “I don’t care about lyrics, I just want cool tunes!” Well if that’s the case, do not fear. You can still enjoy this album!
A few songs on the album have nothing to do with environmentalism, including a song called “Ansel,” which is a head-bobbing jam about Brock’s brother, who died in an avalanche. Its lyrics are punching and powerful, a repetitive mantra of, “you can’t know, the last time that you’ll ever see another soul.” Another track, “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami FL. 1996)” is based loosely on the story of Andrew Cunanan, who was a spree killer in the 90s and killed Gianni Versace.
“The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box” is over six minutes long, but it is an experience, beginning to end. The lyrics do have similar undertones about humans’ impact on the earth, but the song itself is upbeat, fun and rocky. I’ve listened to it to wake me up every morning since its release, and I personally think that it is one of the best songs of Modest Mouse’s career.
The album, whose cover is an aerial photograph of an RV resort in Arizona, features 15 songs and is well worth the addition to your music library. In my modest opinion, anyway.