Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Modest Mouse

  • This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About [Up, 1996] A-
  • The Lonesome Crowded West [Up, 1997] A-
  • Building Nothing Out of Something [Up, 2000] A-
  • The Moon and Antarctica [Epic, 2000] A-
  • Good News for People Who Love Bad News [Epic, 2004] A-
  • We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank [Epic, 2007]
  • No One's First, and You're Next [Epic EP, 2009] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About [Up, 1996]
Long-winded young wankers so insularly indie they're incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't been softened up by Wowee Zowee and the Meat Puppets, these young Northwesterners have nevertheless stumbled into their own sound. It's tuneful, so what; it's halting, even worse; it's funny, now we're getting somewhere; it's direct albeit arch, ahh youth; it's harmonically quirky, there's the nub. The nicest thing I can say about it is that in a just educational system it would earn them all music scholarships. The worst thing I can say about it is the same thing. A-

The Lonesome Crowded West [Up, 1997]
With unadorned melody suddenly fashionable among superannuated indie-rockers who have seen the limits of both irony and techno, I still prefer my tunelets noised up. And until these become the exclusive province of undistinguisheds and indistinguishables like, oh, Versus or Polvo, I'll crow about every exception. Skirting the professional class they were born to for a poverty that's real if voluntary, these three youngsters are probably wise-asses, probably thieves. But their songs never quit even when they're divided into the kind of stylistic segments that usually irritate the hell out of me. Although their glimpses of a cockroach world living on its own discards may seem jejune to some and homely to others, the lyrics are observed, informed, and explicit enough--in fact, as brave and beautiful as the blues, albeit at a more rarefied level of cultural specificity. A-

Building Nothing Out of Something [Up, 2000]
Having once left Tramps deeming them utter wankers after five songs--maybe four, wandered so much I couldn't tell--I harbored few hopes for this catchall of singles, one-offs, and out-of-print EP. But if Pavement has truly checked out, these Washington State youngsters can carry the noize-toon torch. Although "Sleepwalkin'" is kinda sexy, we understand why Up never released that "Never Ending Math Equation" video. As noize-toon, however, they're irreproachable--dissonant, vulnerable, geeky, and, crucially, sweet where so many other dissonantly vulnerable geeks arm themselves with sarcasm. Maybe that's how they got signed to Epic just when all their club buddies were refurbishing their computer skills. A-

The Moon and Antarctica [Epic, 2000]
Production notwithstanding, the major-label move is the lyric sheet, which situates their circular minor-key riffs in a congruent worldview: eternal recurrence as infinite regress as cosmic bummer. Isaac Brock may be every bit the ass he claims, but basically he seems chagrined that he was ever so inept or unlucky as to get caught up in this, as the saying goes, downward spiral. And unlike other rock pessimists we might name, he's so modest about it that he ends up with an uplifting representation of human life as damn shame. A-

Good News for People Who Love Bad News [Epic, 2004]
Weathered now, their herky-jerk stands up smartly to interjections from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. They've outgrown Bukowski if not drifters and scored a video hit in which they back into a police car without penalty, bitch proactively here and shrug passively there, and--good for them--can't resist the old trope of sampling a baby's cry onto a song. Why am I certain one of them fathered the baby? Ah, bittersweet mystery of life. A-

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank [Epic, 2007]
Not much chance there's another "Float On" here to goose sales, but just because novelties are always unlikely, but because "Float On" found Isaac Brock in an atypically live-and-let-live mood. Usually he's more fuck-me, let's-get-lost, or oh-shit-not-again. So one candidate, the instantly hooky "We Know Everything," tops its "we know we know" backup with a "Left you dying on the floor" finale; another, "Steam Engenius," tosses in some woo-hoos on its way to "Stasis is what you got." In short, his latest lyrics are like his earliest, yoking images of failure and frustration to the loud and the catchy, thus rendering failure and frustration more fun. After six albums, this victory is getting too theoretical. Brock is a dour guy with a lot of talent and a good hustle who's been mining the same vein of meaning for over a decade. That's a long time--maybe too long. [Rolling Stone: 3.5]

No One's First, and You're Next [Epic EP, 2009]
Suffused with zoological imagery and tragicomic despair, Isaac Brock's most likable record comprises eight songs that clock in at precisely 33:33. Irritated by the petty distractions of a success whose end he foresees (and fears), Brock explains how trapped he feels without whining about it. He's especially taken with sea creatures--"Perpetual Motion Machine" is about fish who wish they could walk so they could find out how it feels to fall down, and "Whale Song" bemoans Brock's metaphorical uselessness as it demonstrates his capacity for beauty. A-

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