This month finally sees the return of Modest Mouse, barging through with their sixth studio album Strangers to Ourselves. Long-term fans thought the day would never come and stopped holding their breath years ago; their more recent listeners have a lot of catching up to do. Everyone else is missing out.
The amount of exposure gathered by this album after the band’s eight-year hiatus makes this release one of the most anticipated of the year. Personally, its admittedly the first album in the discography where I haven’t been inclined to skip a song or two; part of the listening experience here is an awareness of how well the tracks complement each other within their melodic contexts. Not to say that there aren’t a couple clutching at straws. ‘Be Brave’ and ‘Shit in Your Cut’ bring little originality to the table and contribute minimal ideology to the overall theme of mankind’s environmental disregard. ‘Coyotes’ gave us such a taste back in mid-January, providing insight into the slower, more self conscious tones of the album and an allusion to our behaviour ‘like some serial killer’ of the wilderness.
‘Strangers to Ourselves’ isn’t different enough to be uncomfortable either. After over two decades of making music, the band maintain their rompy, indie-disco jitter juxtaposed with the mellow and introspective, a quality that stands in line with their trademark, default setting of awesome. Yet they bounce around on new territory like they’ve always belonged there. ‘The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box’ was track four of five released before the album itself and sets the standard for a new, innovative sound tried and achieved without dispute. ‘Wicked Campaign’ is another perfect example of these epic new experiments, bordering more so on synth-pop initially than anything the band have yet written or performed. There are surprises.
After years of touring and inter-musical ventures, Modest Mouse very much bring their concerns up to date with this release. It feels like a catch up with an old friend, a little awkward in places but also a deep and enlightening experience. There’s still that comfortable touch of honesty and self-depreciation too, enabling the band to enjoy mainstream success without compromising their integrity or style. But there’s an obvious sense of the passage of time, a nod to mistakes made and lived with. Not to say this is a bad thing, of course; they’ve fought against the tendency to return by ‘playing it safe,’ and have created something precious and idiosyncratic, moving forwards in every direction and having fun doing it. With a smile in there for everyone, new musical experiences blend with the acquainted, and apparently we won’t have to wait long for new stuff.
I should think so too.