I was at Tower Records' Greenwich Village store checking out new stuff at a row of listening stations when I stumbled upon Modest Mouse's strangely beautiful music. As soon as I heard the tricky horn flourish that ignites Good News For People Who Love Bad News I was smitten. I have to tell you all about this music.
The Issaquah, Washington quartet -- singer-songwriter-guitarist Isaac Brock, drummer Benjamin Weikel, bassist Eric Judy and guitar player Dann Gallucci have eked out six albums since 1996, but News is far and away their biggest "hit." And trust me they didn't sell out to move huge quantities -- it's wonderfully weird music.
There's a Violent Femmes intensity to Modest's immodest moods, but my friend, Greta the Record Maven, thinks she hears a lot of Lindsey Buckingham's Tusk in Brook's sound, especially on "Float On." It starts with his line, "I backed my car into a cop car the other day/Well he just drove off, sometimes life's OK," but to me it's just another bizzaro tune that's of a piece, the entire CD hangs together like a suite of songs. The eccentric lyrics are (mostly) fixated on death and emotional pain, but the music's melodic bounce is surprisingly cheerful. It's a feel good record for depressives.
Brook's ode to beat writer "Bukowski" offers this tidbit, "Evil home stereo/What good songs do you know?", which captures my sentiment so much of the time. Skittery rhythms keep the edge on as Brock's scorched vocals rip through the harder tunes, but it's his softer, folksy side that makes my heart skip a beat. "Blame It On The Tetons," is a whispery internal dialogue soothed by fiddles. It's the sort of pretty tune you might expect to find on an Incredible String Band record. Brook returns to his darker grunge fantasies on "The Devil's Workday," and since this is a "PG" rated website let's just say he's one sick puppy. It's ugly and beautiful, all at the same time.
When the CD's catchy closer finally pops up, "The Good Times Are Killing Me," Brook sounds almost optimistic, maybe even happy -- "Got dirt, got air, got water and I know you can carry on." It's a rush to hear music this original and downright compelling.
An audiophile recording it's not. News has the tilted up treble you hear on so many CDs nowadays. Buy it for the music, not the sound.