If the reception of Modest Mouse’s 2007 release “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank’ was an indication of a fan base split between a pop-rock and indie sound, 2015’s “Strangers to Ourselves” will come as no surprise.
It’s a largely uninspired affair from the indie rock powerhouse; a shambling, confused 60 minute LP that drags on and on without a firm identity.
The tracks that shine, shine bright, but with more tepid moments than white-hot ones, the album disappoints.
Coming off more as a stop-gap to appease fans, the album still does have its fair share of pop-soaked rock songs in the vain of “Float On,” while long-time fans will be pleased at the more wacky off-the-wall tracks that won the band an audience in the first place.
The signature Modest Mouse sound is still there, despite what some mega-fans may protest.
Brock’s unmistakable yelping still carries the slow-burners, while a multitude of instruments may quietly carry a song along and burst into a wide-eyed frenzy to finish it off.
The album opens with a plodding title track that has Brock whispering over a rattling drum beat and viola in the background.
It’s nothing special, but an introduction doesn’t exactly have to be.
“Lampshades on Fire’, the lead single, is 2004’s Modest Mouse summed up in just three minutes, a continuation of the sound that made songs like “Float” and “Dashboard” so insanely popular. It’s all of their pop sensibilities and catchy instrumentals rolled into one.
The track carries the same endlessly catchy tone as the rest of their mega-hits.
“Shit in Your Cut” will be a dividing point among many fans.
Those who make it through the frustratingly monotonous opening that sounds like it was pushed out by the Gorillaz will find an explosive climax fueled by some of the darkest vocals they’ve ever put out.
Another notable track, “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miama FL, 1996),” brings the album to a halt.
With instrumentals that sound like a Sega Genesis boss fight, Brock’s vocals are drenched in muddy effects that ruin any chance the song had of being great.
Modest Mouse’s sound doesn’t lend itself well to description; some of it conjures images of a folk band backed by a coke-fueled circus act flying upside-down and smashing away at their instruments.
“Sugar Boat” sums that up. It’s one of the most energetic tracks on the album. Brock’s existentially motivated lyrics are in full force here, “This rock of ours is just some big mistake/And we will never know just where we go/Or where we have come from.”
The song explodes into a cacophony of wild instruments that proves Modest Mouse can still play their heart out, even without Eric Judy and Johnny Marr.
The various reports that had claimed a collaboration between lead singer Isaac Brock and Outkast’s Big Boi did not make the final cut, but Brock has a follow up to the LP planned as soon as “legally possible.”
While Modest Mouse may never return to the pop highs of “Good News for People Who Love Bad News” or make another indie darling like “Lonesome Crowded West,” “Strangers to Ourselves” is a serviceable affair.
After an eight-year absence, the album serves as a sort of lukewarm welcoming back into the disjointed, wacky house of Modest Mouse. Remember to wipe your feet.
Jon Haag is a contributing writer for The Spectator. He can be reached at email@example.com.