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Amidst the 90’s indie alt rock boom of bands such as Guided by Voices, Pavement, Built to Spill, and Arcade Fire rose probably the most popular Alternative Rock band of the 90’s that wasn’t Radiohead, fronted by Issac Brock on vocals and guitar, Jeremiah Green on drums, and bassist Eric Judy. Modest Mouse originally hailed from a small suburb near Seattle, Washington and quickly gained traction during their early years as an energetic rockin’ trailer park band that appealed to the post-hardcore sound that had been popular throughout the late 80’s as well as early 90’s, pioneered by bands such as Fugazi, Big Black, and Drive Like Jehu. One can attribute Modest Mouse’s rise to fame with the fact that they managed to incorporate the post-hardcore vocals and blaring guitars with an indie rock sound which had gained significant popularity since the release of albums such as the Pixies’ “Doolittle” and “Surfer Rosa” as well as Pavement’s “Slanted and Enchanted”.
Modest Mouse was first thrust into the spotlight with the release of their first LP, “This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think about”, a brilliant switch from their loud, abrasive, distorted guitars to a more subdued, melancholic Lo-Fi indie sound. The track “Dramamine” became a huge hit amongst local fans with its mesmerizing, motion sick guitar riff and Brock’s emotion-filled vocal performance reflecting on his relationship with his ex-lover as he makes a long road trip, quite literally exploring the theme implied by the title of the LP. “This is a Long Drive” garnered attention from record labels and fans alike all across the U.S., and soon producers were lining up to work with Modest Mouse, and fans were lining up to experience their live shows.
In a snowball of live shows, studio sessions, and country-wide tours that all happened over the course of one year, Modest Mouse emerged from the studio with their second album, “The Lonesome Crowded West”, an entirely different beast of its own. “The Lonesome Crowded West”, a 16 track-long record that incorporated unique and heavy guitar riffs, an impeccable performance from Brock in both abrasive shouted vocals as well as softer tunes that showed the more vulnerable side of the front-man, and an exploration of themes such as desolation, religion, and capitalism as well as a closer look at Brock’s personal life growing up poor in a trailer park. It was everything a Modest Mouse fan could’ve asked for from the band and was immediately heralded as their masterpiece upon release.
The album does not strive to ease the listener into the hectic soundscape of Modest Mouse, instead throwing them directly into the first track “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine”, a 7-minute long epic collage of screamed vocals, an assortment of contrast between an in-your-face distorted, string bended guitar riffs with a slower paced, solemn refrain in which Brock personifies capitalism as a man with “teeth like god’s shoeshine”, his teeth glimmering with the empty promises and destructive properties of capitalism on the western landscape. This is just one of many instances where Issac Brock uses poetic metaphors, similes, and personification to explore the deeper themes layered in this LP. This is not to say the album is without fun, thrashing, danceable, lighter tracks as Modest Mouse comes up with some of their most irresistibly catchy and upbeat songs on this record, such as “Doin’ The Cockroach” and “Convenient Parking”.
By contrast, this album also contains some of Modest Mouse’s slower and stripped down songs, which often serve to highlight the internal struggles Brock writes into his lyrics. “Trailer Trash” became a fan favorite with it’s simple but wistful chord structure behind incredibly authentic and emotional lyricism from Issac Brock as he speaks about the struggle of growing up a poor trailer park boy “eating snowflakes with plastic forks” and the self-deprecating thoughts that came with his up-bringing. “Styrofoam Boots”, another highlight of this record tackles themes such as fear of religion and the afterlife, conveyed through the viewpoint of the disciple Peter, as well as from his own point of view, where in an internal conversation Brock contemplates “which stack they’re gonna stuff us atheists into” after his death. Some of Issac Brock’s more internal emotional struggles are addressed in song such as the nearly 11 minute jam, “Truckers Atlas”, a song where throughout its length blends a harsh sporadic riff with a sublime drum line that breaks up into a minimal, more echoed guitar line as Brock takes on a narrator who numbs his pains in stimulants, delivering the somber line, “I don’t feel and it feels great.”
However influential and ground-breaking the Alt-Rock masterpieces of the 90’s such as Radiohead’s “Ok Computer”, or Pavement’s “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” were, the desire for a rawer, more authentic and lyrical alternative rock album is one that “The Lonesome Crowded West” prides itself in fulfilling for years since its release.