Modest Mouse - Building Nothing Out of Something
Record Label: Up
Release Date: January 18, 2008
I have always been a fan of albums rather than singles, mixes, or those sort of things. Albums be cohesive and flowing, where every track is at least somewhat solid or fitting. Great singles are nice, and mixes can be cool, but nothing beats a long, flowing, outstanding album. Because of this, I usually find compilation albums from bands to be an iffy idea, and approached Modest Mouse's Building Nothing Out of Something with a bit of trepidation.
I was a little late to the Modest Mouse party, and so I still hadn't listened to Building Nothing when Modest Mouse's newest compilation, No One's First and You're Next, came out. While the latter had some great tracks, it also had tracks that fell rather flat, leaving me pressing the skip button far more often than on most Modest Mouse albums. Despite this, the quality of Modest Mouse's music led me to also check out the former, even if it did end up being a jumbled collection of excellent and sub par tracks.
As it turns out, however, Building Nothing Out of Something is much more than a collection of B-sides. Somehow, all of these tracks have been pieced together into an odd, but beautifully cohesive album full of angst, existentialism, and the type of beauty only Modest Mouse is capable of creating.
Building Nothing Out of Something was fittingly released between the earlier The Lonesome Crowded West and the then soon-to-be-released The Moon & Antarctica, with shades of the older, rawer Modest Mouse bounce ("A Life of Arctic Sounds", "All Night Diner"), but also heavily utilizing the more restrained, mellow sound present on the forthcoming Antarctica ("Workin' On Leavin' the Livin'", "Other People's Lives"). But there are also a good number of songs that are all their own, which would have been out of place on other records but find themselves right at home here. "Sleepwalkin'" has a country-like twang to it much more like Ugly Casanova's "Smoke Like Ribbons" than anything Modest Mouse has released, and at three minutes and twenty-three seconds, avoids being too drawn-out. "Medication" is a song built upon an interesting concept. The construction of the track parallels the moods of someone on medication. It starts off dull, dreary, and rather depressing, then bursts into an upbeat and care free melody, followed by a quick descent back into the dull world of crashing waves, a simple guitar line, and lyrical wordplay ("We're all doctors trading sadness for numbness/Grass looked much greener but it's green-painted cement/ The mayor's machines are there cleaning the pavement/ You can't make dirt clean so we'll just lemon-scent it).
The album has a dreary, almost worn out feel as a whole, due to the length of the softer, more depressing ballads. Modest Mouse does speed up the pace occasionally with upbeat tracks, but they are few. Opener "Never Ending Math Equation" is optimally placed, as it is the most upbeat and accessible track on the album. With a simple, catchy beat, it captivates you while Isaac sings some of the best lyrics on the album ("Oh my God, I've got to move on/Where do you move when what you're moving from/Is yourself?"). "All Night Diner" is a fun, bouncy track which is great, but so ridiculous you can't help but chuckle.
But really, the majority of the songs here are slower and softer, with simple beats and hushed vocals that are more likely to make you think and feel rather than move. Combined with incredible lyrics, they usually succeed. "Broke" is a breath-taking ballad where the whole band shines, with excellent drumming, an emotive croon, and guitar lines that evolve from repetitive plucking into a fast bombardment of sound at the end. "Whenever You Breathe Out, I Breathe In (Positive/Negative)," besides being one of the best tracks, is also one of the saddest. The music isn't always "soft," with the chorus being an explosion of sound, but that just adds to the intensity of Brock's words (I didn't feel angry or depressed/I didn't feel anything at all). Like many other tracks ("Broke", "Workin' On Leavin' the Livin'"), it just makes you swell with emotion (not cry though... that's dust. Just some dust in my eye...).
Building Nothing Out of Something is an great album from an incredible band. Because of the disc being a compilation, there is a good amount of experimentation and oddness on this album. Luckily for us, it mostly works out. With the band in top form and Brock's prose as good as always, this is a must-have for any fan of Modest Mouse's earlier work.
How is the band pretentious? I understand maybe some of the fans might be, but don't criticize a band because of it's fans, that's just pretentiousness in itself.
If you'd actually ever been around the band, then you'd realize they are humble as fuck.
EDIT: and they like to smoke weed *tee hee
EDIT AGAIN: I'm surprised the reviewer didn't mention that the instrumentation on Sleepwalkin' (this song was also on the band's out of print Interstate 8 EP) is a cover of the classic "Sleep Walk" by Santo & Johnny.