Monday, March 2, 2020

top ten songs: Modest Mouse.

Do you guys remember Modest Mouse?

You should.

Modest Mouse came into my life in 2004 with the release of their album Good News For People Who Love Bad News. It's an angst-ridden masterpiece. I was 16 or 17 at the time, making me the perfect age for such an album. I myself was full of feelings (specifically, "no one understands me" and "I don't fit in here"), and Modest Mouse spoke to me. I've said this before and I will say it again: no music will ever hit you as hard as the music you listened to as a sad and angry teenager. 

Good News For People Who Love Bad News was one of the first new albums I bought when I had my own home and space for my beloved record player. (You may recall I got a record player for Christmas when I was 15. Way before they were cool.) My friend Sarah and I made sure to see Modest Mouse when they performed at the District in Sioux Falls. Yes, Modest Mouse came to Sioux Falls. We were all smushed together in this little room, getting stepped on and sweated on. But we were all teenagers again, so it didn't matter. 

Here are my top ten Modest Mouse songs, ranging from perennial favourites to newly-discovered loves. 

Ocean Breathes Salty
"Ocean Breathes Salty" is the first of many songs you'll find off the aforementioned album Good News For People Who Love Bad News. It's also the first Modest Mouse song I remember hearing and loving. As I've mentioned in numerous blog posts preceding this one, I am a huge fan of songs with upbeat instrumentation and tunes, but lyrics that are real downers. This song is no exception, as it's very much about death. It also sums up pretty neatly my view on the afterlife: "For your sake I hope heaven and hell/are really there, but I wouldn't hold my breath."

The View
Also heralding from Good News For People Who Love Bad News, "The View" was a favourite of mine right off the bat. However, it really solidified its place in my top ten list in college. As a sophomore, I shared an evening radio show with my then-boyfriend, an art major with whom I frequently butted heads about what to play. One band we agreed on? Modest Mouse. We attended the University of Minnesota, Morris (UMM), which meant the radio station was called KUMM. No joke. The station rules regarding profanity in music were thus: only gentle curse words were allowed for most of the day, but after 9pm, nothing was off the table. Our radio show was 8pm-10pm Sunday nights, so in the last hour, we could play whatever we wanted. I remember feeling like such a badass playing "The View" after 9 because it had the word "shit" in it. 20-year-olds are ridiculous. 

World at Large
We're just going to cover every favourite song from Good News For People Who Love Bad News (a masterpiece, I tell you) right off the bat. Besides the nine-second horn intro that's technically a separate track, this is the opening track on the album. It's also the first Modest Mouse song I ever remember hearing. There's something about the melancholy underlying guitar track that really struck a chord (bad music pun, sorry) with me. I also like that this song is unusual in that there's no discernible chorus. There are few songs who do this and do it well, so I applaud.

The Good Times Are Killing Me
Have we all thought this at one time or another, or is it just me? While nursing a hangover? And that's exactly what this song is about. Granted, it's been a while since I've had a real hangover and not a 30-something hangover... a 30-something hangover being "I had one glass of wine and my head is KILLING me." And as an eight-months pregnant person, it's even been quite some time since I've even had one of those. But that's all beside the point. We've all had those nights: "jaws clenched tight we talked all night/oh but what the hell did we say?" 

One Chance
"One Chance" is actually the most recent addition to my favourites list. I'd heard it before, certainly, but I was too busy skipping to my other favourites on Good News For People Who Love Bad News to pay too much attention. I heard it on Pandora the other day, and it hit me just right. I LOVE when this happens - this song is 15 years old, but it feels brand new. Modest Mouse hits you right away with these lyrics: "we have one chance/one chance to get everything right." Nothing like pressure, but we all know it's true. I love the juxtaposition between the gentle opening verse and the shouty middle, then back to gentle.

Float On
This is the sixth and final song I'm covering from Good News For People Who Love Bad News, though the album is full of other gems. "Float On" is the complete opposite of "World at Large" in that it's mostly chorus. But that's ok. It's also significantly more optimistic than any other Modest Mouse song on this list, basically telling us everything will turn out fine: "Don't worry even if things end up a bit too heavy/we'll all float on alright." However, in true Modest Mouse fashion, they end on an unresolved chord, making you question that optimism.

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is my second-favourite Modest Mouse album, which I actually received on vinyl for Christmas this year (thanks, Mom and Dad!). It was the album following Good New For People Who Love Bad News, released in 2007. I was 19 or 20 and in college at the time, which is still the perfect age for angst and Modest Mouse. "Dashboard" is about a disastrous road trip, à la Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I also kind of love the "it could have been worse" mentality: "the dashboard melted, but we still have the radio."

Missed the Boat
Also from We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, the instrumentation in this song is lovely. It's slower and more mournful than "Dashboard," and it's about the fleeting quality of life: "Looking towards the future/we were begging for the past/well, we know we had the good things/but those never seemed to last/oh please, just last." The vocals in every Modest Mouse song are strong, but they're especially so in this song.

Tiny Cites Made of Ashes

These last two songs are from the 2000 album The Moon and Antarctica. This album came out four years before I was aware of Modest Mouse, but post-2004 deeper digging into their catalog led me here. "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" was one of the few songs I knew when Sarah and I saw Modest Mouse at the District in 2017. (Which was crazy, as I considered myself quite the Modest Mouse aficionado. However, their catalog is deep and wide.) "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" doesn't sound anything like any other Modest Mouse song I know, and if I didn't know better and heard it on the radio, I wouldn't think it was Modest Mouse at all. That's one of the things I love about them: they've got tons of different sounds and are certainly not afraid to experiment.

3rd Planet
I'm ending this list with "3rd Planet," another Pandora find - so I didn't start really loving this song until about a year ago. I just gone done saying Modest Mouse has tons of different sounds, which is true. But "3rd Planet" has what I would call a fairly common Modest Mouse sound in which there's a chunk in the middle where they start staying a bunch of stuff really fast. (Not the greatest musical description in the world, but forgive me.) Several of the songs on this list contain the same thing, which I love. It tends to jolt you out of whatever comfort zone you thought you were in with the song. Modest Mouse also loves to put huge concepts (like the meaning of life in previous songs) in a tiny perspective: "the universe is shaped exactly like the earth/if you go straight long enough, you'll end up where you were."

And that's ten songs! I hope you enjoyed this walk down teenage and twentysomething memory lane with me. 

If you'd like to read about my deep love for other musicians/bands, check out my other top ten lists! They're in order from newest to oldest.

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