Pre-Screening: Modest Mouse

Album: No One's First and You're Next
Artist: Modest Mouse
Label: EPIC
Due Out: August 4th

Yes, I'm reviewing an EP today. No, it's never happened before here, which makes it all the more puzzling. It's been a hectic week, plus there's nothing I'm really all that jazzed up about, except this, coming out, so I figured why not? Now that that's out of the way-- Modest Mouse's new EP, No One's First and You're Next, explores some b-sides from the past four or five years, which as you might have guessed, span their past two studio albums. You'll notice that all eight tracks are obviously from the recent era from their accessibility alone, but in no way does that take away from them. Each is unique in it's own right, and though the songs may not have fit onto the released full albums, they flow very nicely together in this short collection. Let's begin.

We start with what is probably my favorite track of the release, "Satellite Skin". Like most of the record, I've talked about this one at length, but I'll take a stab at a bit more lengthy commentary. I really enjoy the raw, rock 'n' roll aspects of the song, as the upbeat, bouncy song shows choice traces of a more-reserved "Dashboard." Still, I find the emotion behind this to be a bit more heartfelt than almost anything you'll find from them, which among other things, probably explains the omission. Next, "Guilty Cocker Spaniels" features a fast-talking Isaac Brock in classic rambling form, flying over a stop-and-start background part. I've always been of the mindset that Brock is at his best when he's nearly lecturing the listener, usually while barking/growling, yet this one seems to accomplish the job with a minimal amount of volume to his voice (save the end).

If "Autumn Beds" had been released as part of any full album, it would have been the token indie slow song on everyone's mind for months, so I'm almost glad that didn't happen. This one gets by on some elegant, relaxed strumming, mixed with a bit of flute, and double-layered vocals. There's also a banjo, which I can always support, unless it's the instrument of choice throughout an entire album. Still, it's a bit interesting to see Brock so stripped down and sober, when I'm so used to the exact opposite. Then "The Whale Song" creeps in. The heavy bass introduces its brooding mood immediately, while its jagged guitar riffs have you cautious about the next place it will go. The first time I heard it, I had almost given up on there being vocals once the solo began spanning an entire minute or so. However, they are, in fact there, though repetitive. After the first few listens, it actually becomes a pretty cool track. Lots of noise elements, some grunge and some pretty cool, elongated guitar work we rarely see from the band. Sprawling solos from Modest Mouse? Yup, you've seen everything.

"Perpetual Motion Machine" starts with some horns, which is weird, because the song name evoked an image of Major Organ and the Adding Machine the first time I saw it. It's a lazy, shuffling jazz number that would have fit in pretty well with "Horn Intro," but besides that, would have felt quite out of place on any full-length. "History Sticks to Your Feet" is another song that can act a bit uncharacteristic at first glance. The high-pitched guitar part and straight-forward vocal part had me fooled somewhat at the beginning, and even by song's end, you're still not fully convinced it could have been a Modest Mouse song. It almost seems like a cover, but regardless, another track with some cool raw emotion.

Now "King Rat" gets back to a lot of that Western influence I discussed at the album's onset. Brock just seemingly bops along here, distortion up at times, and other times, jamming to his own personal pop track, complete with the requisite intermittent horn section. There's also that long-awaited tangent that finally pops up for the last two-plus minutes of the song. Quite appropriate. And then we come to a close with another semi-pop track, as it alternates between bright melody, electrifying chorus and a spacious (can't believe I'm describing them like this again) bridge. Whatever got into the band for these, I sure wouldn't mind seeing some more occasionally.

For a b-side EP, Modest Mouse does themselves quite well. All of the tracks would have been obviously out of place separately, yet, they accomplish a great, engaging vibe together. All seem to really push Isaac Brock's usual common man's struggle aesthetic, so I liked the continuity there. To be honest, this is probably one of the better non-album compilations I've ever listened to, but then again, I am talking about some of the better musicians in indie rock today, so what did I expect? Nothing earth-shattering, yet it does the job of giving fans a look into what else goes on during the creative process, so credit is due, but not overbearingly. Similarities will include Built to Spill, Neutral Milk Hotel and Wolf Parade.

Rating: 7.5/10

Best Track: "Satellite Skin"

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