Versus – Modest Mouse: This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About VS. We Were Dead d Before the Ship Even Sank

The Case for This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About

By Sam Tornow, Editorial Director

It’s 1996 and you’re about to embark on the drive from Olympia to Seattle. It’s November and your hand-me-down Accord’s heat is busted. Out of your peripheral vision, you see a cold looking tape under the passenger seat, it’s the one you bought from the openers last week at The Goat House. You figure, “what the hell”, I’ve heard the new Built to Spill tape one too many times anyway, crack open the case and slip it in.

There’s a strange guitar intro that sounds like what a fly would see if it was on ecstasy. It’s hypnotic. A lispy voice spits strained words that you can barely understand overtop a ropy bass and poorly recorded, tight drums. If you had synthesia, these sounds would look like the barren, gray, soon-to-be-constructed landscape you’re driving through. The album slips under your conscious frame of reference, adding to the drive instead of distracting you from it like you originally wanted. When no cars are coming down the two-way you reach down and pick up the tape case you initially threw aside: This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About by Modest Mouse. “Yeah, that makes sense,” you say to yourself and chuckle.

Modest Mouse has always been a quarter-step ahead of anyone in their genre. In the ‘90s they outran the grunge and early indie artists with a sincerity of self rather rather than hatred of the government or romantic garbage, and in one of the most up-and-coming music scenes in the country, that connected with a lot of people. After months of chain-smoking their way through house venues and playing in bars, they were too young to drink in, the band released their now-legendary debut, This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About.

For the mid-2000s fan of the group, This is a Long Drive is a far stretch; the “weird” early album with the ugly artwork, that happens to have “Dramamine” on it. It’s quite a departure from the shiny indie-god tier albums like Good News for People Who Like Bad News and We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, that stole the hearts of mid-level hipster suburban kids, myself included. But after a few years of toeing the waters of the band’s newer releases, there’s nothing like the deep sea cuts from their starting point.

This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About’s true charm is in it’s writing. Frontman Isaac Brock has always been known for his wit, but unlike later releases, he’s not pandering to an audience, he’s spitting pure, untethered truth. Brock’s wit comes in the form of one-liners like “Oh noose tied myself in, tied myself too tight/Talking shit about a pretty sunset”, “She sat, she sat in the backseat/The car was plush but had no heat/And no not no one was blushing”, and the instant classic, “I got one two three four/Five, six, six, six”.

Of course in the mid-2000s saga of Modest Mouse, certain gems exist in the forms of “Bukowski”, Spitting Venom” and yada yada yada, however, there’s something lost in translation. We are no longer reaching to grab the tape off the floor, instead, we’re getting screamed at from stadiums while the half-baked crowd waits impatiently for “Float On”. The band deserves the stadiums and the fans, but for a group built on honesty, cynicism and critical statements about mainstream culture, things feel wobbly.

Sure, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank brought clever music videos, new fans and a hell of a concept with it, but was it worth it? Call it the evolution of an artist, call it catering to the masses, call it anything at all, but in these post-Building Nothing out of Something years, personability was traded for danceability. I admit to spinning some of the new albums, even loving some of the newer tracks, but they don’t always feel like Modest Mouse. And I miss Modest Mouse. Their early work feels like the contents between parenthesis that separate the grunge and emo movements in alternative ‘90s culture; a safe haven for those who didn’t find comfort in those scenes. And because they existed in that parenthesis, they aged better than anything reread by everyone else 200 times over.

Modest Mouse continues to release music at a steady pace, and I’ll always be waiting for the next album. And while I hope the poppy-twinges and frumpy instrumentation find their place among the sound I, and many others, grew to love, there was something really special about Isaac Brock, Eric Judy and Jeremiah Green letting us in on some of the small secrets of pacific northwest life, at time when everyone was starring the next thousand years in the face.

The Case for We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

By Tanner Biddish, Staff Writer

Starting in the 90s, as a teenager in Seattle, Isaac Brock has been helming the ship that is Modest Mouse. Each of their releases is characteristic in its own right; all offering an aesthetic of their own, whilst still connected under the artistry of Modest Mouse; much the same way a Wes Anderson film feels distinctly itself, yet has an unmistakable authorship. Definitive of their entire career is the debut, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About. It’s bleak, desolate, synonyms. But, at the same time its rife with spirit and guts. Guitars guide the listener through a haunting, introspective trip with Isaac Brock’s idiosyncratic voice – and its multiple personalities – as the only companion (“Gotta go to work! Gotta go to work! Gotta have a job!”). This Is a Long Drive, as Sam will tell you, is fantastic. It’s a pioneering moment for Modest Mouse, with a potential over polish charm that’s unique to being their first work. But it’s not my favorite.

My favorite is a bit of an underdog of an album. Maybe it’s a bias, maybe it’s because it was in my dad’s CD cabinet when I was a younger, and maybe it’s because it was my go to car trip album for five years – but my favorite Modest Mouse record is We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, and I’ll definitely argue that it’s their best. Here’s why:

Firstly, it’s worth noting that their 2007 release sees Modest Mouse engaging a larger musical world. Singing backup on “Florida” and “We’ve Got Everything” is James Mercer of The Shins. Also guitarist of The Smiths, Johnny Marr, contributes. Through writing, recording, and even touring, Marr essentially becomes a member of the band. Don’t be fooled however, Modest Mouse doesn’t sporadically sound like The Smiths on We Were Dead. They retain a quirky and rough instrumentation that’s quintessentially them, while delving into something strange and at times schizophrenic. See “Florida” for instance. Harsh verses that a have vocal resonance of yell-speak-singing are sandwiched between melodic choruses. Then the bridge takes the tonal extreme of both and pits them back to back. The guitars rip while you can feel Isaac tear through the ending lines of the song. This work is a testament to Brock’s vocal capabilities, not just in “Florida”, but through the entirety of the album.

He makes a soft intro in the following track – an album highlight – “Parting of the Sensory”. Each musical shift mirrored in the infliction of his voice, a track that beings so gently develops into something brewing, then angry, then frantic. “Someday, something will die and somehow you’ll figure out how often you will die and something’s gonna steal your carbon”, Isaac panders nonsensically over a musical cascade from a chaotic band. He’s just bleeding with emotion as if he hardly understands what he’s even saying. Juxtaposing this on the opposite side of the album is the bridge of “Spitting Venom”, where the repetitious nature is much calmer, as if it’s meant to comfort. The contrast feels like an earned lesson picked up through the listening of the record.

Song order was keenly thoughtful on this We Were Dead. The intensity of “Parting of the Sensory” is met with the more tender “Missed the Boat”. A gentle and controlled track, that is no less a banger than any of the others. The verse mentioning “the tiny clap of little hands” has particular vocal layering like a growling whisper. It adds unexpected personality to the number, which tends to be a theme of We Were Dead. You can hear it everywhere: the faint callbacks in “We’ve Got Everything”, the aggravated narrative of “Fly Trapped In a Jar”, the low, growly in-your-ear accents in “Education”.

We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank is also not short gems. Aforementioned are “Parting of the Sensory” and “Missed the Boat”, and there’s also the unforgettable “People As Places As People”, “Spitting Venom”, and “Little Motel”. Like a berceuse to someone distant and innocent, “Little Motel” is the black sheep of the record and equally its most emotional moment. Isaac is vulnerable and empathetic. The crash of percussion into the final chorus is cathartic. It’s a powerful track.

The album doesn’t suffer from any serious flaws either. There’s a dedication to nautical motifs that makes itself known, but never steers the ship in a heavy handed way. It peaks its head out in seafaring creeks in the intros of “March Into the Sea” and “Education”, and in the allusions of “Missed the Boat”. And true to Modest Mouse are the relatable sincerities in Isaac’s lyrics: “Both halves are the better half, like a joke trying to make another joke laugh, haha” (“Steam Engenius”), and “We carried all the groceries in while hauling out the trash, if this doesn’t make us motionless I do not know what can” (“Spitting Venom”).

The album ends with yet another banger in “Invisible”. The album sails through its fourteen tracks without missing a beat. It’s never lacking, it’s never dull, and it’s always banging even in the motivated slower movements. This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About sets their career in motion, but We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank takes full advantage of that career. It’s a modern, mature Modest Mouse. This record, hands down, stands at the forefront of their recent career, and in my opinion their entire discography.

 

Versus: Mitski – Puberty 2 vs. Retired from Sad, New Career in Business

The Case for Puberty 2

By Jon Fuchs, Reviews Editor

There’s one thing I need to get across with this piece right here: Tanner is wrong. Obviously, there is no such thing as a bad Mitski record, and Retired from Sad, New Career in Business is amazing, but her most recent record, Puberty 2, is hands down her best album to date. Just look at the name alone: Puberty 2. What other name perfectly describes the themes and emotions Mitski’s music brings out? Challenging the listener with thoughts about love and sadness similar those one would have during adolescence, Puberty 2 is Mitski’s most honest and beautifully written record to date, with excellent production and instrumentation to match.

The opener “Happy” helps back this up through her storytelling, personifying the emotion of happiness as a lover who only comes to help periodically, leaving her sad and hollow again. It’s a beautiful opener that is just as relatable as it is catchy. The next track, “Dan the Dancer,” shows the diversity of Puberty 2’s influences, as it feels heavier and completely different from the last track. What doesn’t change, however, is Mitski’s soft and gentle vocals, which linger throughout the entire record.

“Once More to See You,” “Fireworks” and “Your Best American Girl” continue the record with lyrics about love, depression and self-identity. These are probably the densest songs on the entire record, with layers upon layers of different kinds of instrumentation, from distorted guitars to 808 bass. “Your Best American Girl” could arguably be considered one of the best tracks of 2016, with its loud, booming chorus and verses that feel the exact opposite, with a guitar melody so quiet, you can hear to metronome in the distance.

My personal favorite song on Puberty 2, “I Bet on Losing Dogs,” is probably my favorite Mitski song period. The song is about being in constantly crumbling relationships, which feels so incredibly real and heartbreaking to anyone who’s ever fallen in love and eventual despair. The opening lines “My baby, my baby / You’re my baby, say it to me,” sung with Mitski’s gentle voice, is so comforting and so depressing, you can’t help but get instantly attached. The track continues with a beautiful harmony between Mitski and the synths, that eventually end with a somewhat uncomfortable chord that fits perfectly with the emotions the track makes the listener feel.

The last few tracks on the record play off as a series of heartbreak. “My Body is Made of Crushed Little Stars,” easily the most abrasive song on the entire record, is Mitski screaming internally at all of her everyday stress and anxiety. “Thursday Girl” is arguably the catchiest song on the record, with its nice, repetitive hi-hats and beautiful synth textures. The album suddenly ends with “A Burning Hill,” a short, tear-jerking acoustic song about leaving a toxic relationship. It acts as the perfect closure for such an emotionally intense and exhausted record.

It’s probably not as sonically epic or impressive than Retired from Sad, but Puberty 2 is still Mitski’s catchiest and best record yet. It’s got her most personal and poetic lyrics and some of

her best production to date. Once again, there is no such thing as a bad Mitski record, but this one really takes the cake as the best of the four.

The Case for Retired from Sad, New Career in Business

By Tanner Bidish, Contributor

Mitski Miyawaki, known to most solely by her first name, is an incredibly talented musician. Since 2012 Mitski has put out four albums all dealing with the crisis that is growing up. Speaking to issues of relationships, sex, identity, self-worth, and more, her work has amassed a following of youths in turmoil. This year’s release of Puberty 2 was met with praise and acclaim from across the board, and rightfully so. Puberty 2 is fantastic, and while it’s sure to top many album of the year list in 2016, it’s not quite the best Mitski record. That title would have to be her sophomore release, Retired from Sad, New Career in Business.

Retired from Sad was recorded in Mitski’s senior year of college at SUNY Purchase. The academic setting gave her access to recording equipment and resources – including a 60-person orchestra – that allowed her to sound professional even on this keenly experimental album. The record is highlighted by musical decisions that give way to a theatrical atmosphere. This reflects with each listen feeling like a performance in and of itself.

Songs rooted in a relationship with her mom bookend Retired from Sad. Each giving insight to the doubt, admiration, and love felt toward a mother. The hums and swells of strings sooth the eardrums across the entirety. It makes for an unparalleled emotional accompanist to Mitski’s assailing vocal range and skill. The crescendos in “Square” showcase the strength to switch Mitski commands the arrangements. She sore as a lyricist as well. The use of the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty as backdrop to “Humpty” sets a thematic juxtaposition of innocence and maturity; it’s intelligent and dramatic. And the dramatics don’t relent.

“Shame” seduces the listener under the might of strings, with vague unmusical screeches in the back. Mitski’s voice pulls you in, “It feels so good, and right outside the door and nobody knows.” She lets out a gasp. Reverb hits her voice at the song’s climax. Unfolding is a beautiful embodiment of the guilt and pleasure that can surround young sex. Theatrics continue with the unconventional instrumentation in “Circle”, which deliberately appeals to the track’s narrative form, over musical. The choice is clever, and slick enough that it may go unnoticed.

Retired from Sad, while sorrowfully dripping with emotion, doesn’t stray away from sweeter moments. “Strawberry Blond” is perhaps the happiest song in all of Mitski’s discography. Her bright upper range carries this acoustic ditty. Guitar, piano, violin all blend for a jubilant movement; a choir even joining in for the last hit of the chorus. More bitter than sweet is the piano lullaby, “Because Dreaming Cost Money, My Dear.” Mitski’s cooing vocal melodies pull at feelings of the past, a lost nostalgic hope. Calm brass, and vocal layering at the end pull together the theatric flourishes that are quintessential in this record.

The album takes its curtain call on “Class of 2013.” Naming her senior project with a phrase personally associated with moving to the next stage in life is powerfully. The title fits this piece impeccably. The listener sees her pleading with her mother; a chance to stay home, to be taken care of just a little longer, to not feel so adult. “Mom, am I still be young? Can I dream for a few months more?” The track is raw Mitski; only her voice and the piano.

Sir Isaac Newton is often quoted with saying, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Retired from Sad, New Career in Business is the set of shoulders holding Puberty 2. Puberty 2 is an incredible work, but its themes are – at their core – a further elaboration of what Retired from Sad started. Structurally both operate on similar levels, each even ending with an acoustic ballad featuring Mitski with a single instrument. The 2013 release may not stand taller in the public eye, but Retired from Sad, New Career in Business is the essential Mitski record, and her most definitive release to date.