By Ed Jones
Welcome to a new monthly feature- Classic Album Reviews. Every month I will be delving into the past and reviewing an album that as a music fan you simply can’t do without. Starting things off this month is; Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West (my favourite album of all time),
Modest Mouse’s sound is one of raw anger filtered through a haze of lo-fi brutality and icy cold precision. Hiding among the fuzz of Calvin Johnson‘s production are some of the most left-field and downright bizarre guitar hooks/riffs I’ve ever heard. I struggle even now to find a suitable word to describe them, magnetized maybe? Either way, they’re something to behold, and hidden away behind Eric Judy‘s thumping bass and Jeremiah Green‘s rolling percussion makes them even more special when you tease them out on repeat listens. Songs like Truckers Atlas, Doin the Cockroach and Lounge (Closing Time) are the best examples of this as repeat listening opens the songs up in ways I didn’t think were possible the first time I heard them.
Immediately drawing listeners in with the blistering Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine Modest Mouse seem determined to make The Lonesome Crowded West a challenging listen, at first glance the pacing alone is more in line with a car crash than an album with a sensible structure. However, this is actually what makes this album so perfect. The reckless abandon of one song leads directly into swampier more languid songs and then right back on the gas five minutes later (these are long songs). While the song structure is completely off the wall, one thing manages to remain constant throughout the albums 75 minute run time- the song writing.
Isaac Brock is probably one of the strongest song writers around today. His subjects tend to be fairly classic indie rock staples; religion, depression, urbanization etc. but he weaves some outstanding metaphors and imagery throughout all of his songs, crafting intriguing stories like Cowboy Dan or contemplative think pieces such as Polar Opposites. (Polar opposites don’t push away/It’s the same on the weekends as the rest of the days) Brock’s songwriting arrived fully formed back in 1996 on their debut album This is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About with songs like Dramamine and Edit the Sad Parts, yet it feels perfected on TLCW. The song writing covers more distance than the previous album, which is ironic given that album’s themes. But TLCW looks far wider than just sitting in a car feeling depressed, it takes a skewed looks at America as seen through the strip malls and suburbs and a haze of psychedelic drugs.
While the broader themes of strip mall America remain pertinent throughout there is still a lot here that can be related to on a smaller, personal level, be it the depression of Long Distance Drunk , the sense of dull repetition in Doin the Cockroach (Ever since I got this job I’ve been doin the cockroach!) or simply the feeling that everything is going to be alright at some point; Styrofoam Boots/It’s all Nice on Ice (my personal favourite song on the album) Brock’s lyrics are dense enough to be able to be interpreted any way you want.
TLCW stands proud as both a towering achievement in Modest Mouse‘s career and also my number one album of all time, I can’t think of a single dud song, although saying that I can barely think of a bad song in Modest Mouse’s 23 year career. The destructive precision of their music coupled with perceptive, relatable lyrics make this album one you can return to again and again and always find something new and weird each time.