Modest Mouse: "Lampshades on Fire"
from Strangers to Ourselves (Epic/Glacial Pace; 2015)
By Corey Beasley | 23 January 2015
I love Modest Mouse more than most of you love your grandparents. (The qualification there isn’t meant to imply that some of you love your grandparents more than I love Modest Mouse, which is impossible—some of you just don’t love your grandparents at all, you ingrates, and thus you’re stricken from the official data set.) I watched you drag We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007) through the muck, gleefully ripping the band in its post-Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004), “Float On” success, turning on them as the masses always do when a former hero sticks around too long. You are all a bunch of Henry VIIIs, and poor Isaac Brock is Thomas Cromwell, forever serving you with unparalleled mastery, years and year of service, and then—off with his head. Or maybe you’re all a bunch of Thomas Cromwells, machinating while poor Ann Boleyn, who you definitely hooked up in a big way, waits in the Tower. I don’t know. I went to public school.
Look, sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of Masterpiece Theater. What else was I supposed to do for the seven years (!) it’s been since the last proper Modest Mouse album? But let’s be clear: We Were Dead had the songs. Was it overproduced to a sickly, slick, chrome-plated shine? Sure. But did Isaac Brock spit, growl, bark, purr his way to the greatest vocal performances, front to back, of his entire career? Yes. Did it open with fucking “March into the Sea”? I seem to remember it opening with fucking “March into the Sea.” “Spitting Venom”? “People As Places As People”? I’m in my judge’s robe, banging my case-closed gavel while I spin-move from halfcourt to dunk on y’all.
But damn. Seven years after they made a new ESPN, ESPN 23, just to replay my dunk clip on a 24-hour loop, I might be eating crow. “Lampshades on Fire,” the first new, non-b-side Modest Mouse track since 2007, is…fine. It’s fine.
Let’s run the numbers.
PRO: That bass groove, classic Modest Mouse punk-funk (fuck you, Flea), Eric Judy in peak form to build the track around jittery, danceable movement.
CON: It’s not actually played by Eric Judy. He left the band. Bro!
PRO: Isaac’s disco-stutter guitar in the right channel. Visions of disco-stutter guitar in the right channel from years past send me soaring on an amphetamine cloud. “The View!” “Lounge!” The other “Lounge!” “Doin’ the Cockroach!” COME ON!
CON: But actually, not much guitar? Isaac lets the rhythm section guide the track, perfectly reasonable on past masterworks like “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” but here its absence resonates, as if the studio accidentally left the master guitar track off the mix. You couldn’t even hit us with some bent harmonics? Dude.
PRO: Double-tracked Isaac vocals. One evil, baritone, tobacco-spittin’, truck-crashin’, wall-punchin’ Isaac. One lisping, breathy, pretty, dazed Isaac. Bliss.
CON: Isaac’s vocal performance seems too controlled, with little of the deranged menace that made We Were Dead gripping even in its flabbier moments. This likely has something do with “Lampshades” floating around for years in performance before the band made it into the studio to cut a recorded version. That lack of immediacy is the biggest takeaway—and the most worrisome—here.
PRO: “PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PULL US UP!”
CON: Some line about an ass looking good in jeans?
PRO: Modest Mouse.
Crunch the numbers, and you come up with “Fine.” Try it on your home calculator. I’ll still be listening to “Lampshades on Fire” on a constant loop for the next two months, waiting to mainline Strangers to Ourselves until it’s forever A Part of Me. Now, change the channel to ESPN 23. Check this out.