Modest Mouse – No One's First and You're Next
Record label: Epic Records
Release Date: August 4, 2009
Those anxiously awaiting an album's worth of new material from their favorite Washington rockers are going to feel slighted with Modest Mouse's most recent release No One's First and You're Next. While this EP may not be the tightest disc put out by the band, it should be enough to pass the time until the new studio album hits stores.
The EP begins with "Satellite Skin", which is a fairly straightforward tune that leaves nothing to the imagination. Its biggest downfall is that it is very plain musically and while Brock's lyrics are as introspective as ever (Just like being my own solar system/Doing good things but they totally eclipse them), one cannot help but feel there is something missing.
"Guilty Cocker Spaniels" redeems the previous track by laying out all of the band's eccentric attitude in a four minute caper concerning society and its willingness to roll over for what is fashionable and trendy (The truth had stopped and the skyline rose/Exchanging comfort for more fashionable clothes/I left the hills at this point in time/To run on treadmills in a perfect line). I am distinctly reminded of older Modest Mouse and as those silly elitists will tell you that would be a good thing.
The third track is "Autumn Beds" and it comes with a beautiful rustic tinge and simple Isaac banter akin to "A Life of Arctic Sounds". The tune itself seems to tell the tale of criminals finally nabbed by the authorities and sentenced to the clink. Isaac's ability to tell stories in his music is not lost on "Autumn Beds" and yet neither is it fully realized. While the instrumental exploration on previous albums seemed to be superfluous in several cases, somehow it seems to be needed here. While the song is miles more inventive than "Satellite Skin", one can't help but feel a banjo outro is needed every once and awhile when it fits.
Lovers of "Stars Are Projectors" and "Trucker's Atlas" unite! "The Whale Song" manages to include what would be excessive bends and instrumentation to any other artist, but when utilized by Modest Mouse, it somehow emits the quality of being beautiful and engaging. The exigency exhibited by Brock's vocals and the haunting guitar work combines with Jeremiah's marvelous drumming to create quite possibly their best music since The Moon & Antarctica. Perhaps, it is in expecting that Modest Mouse should be unconventional that makes this song work. At the end of the day, putting too much thought into this band's work is rather deconstructive and thus "The Whale Song" may be best left without too much dissection.
"Perpetual Motion Machine" gives off the "happy" distinction that hardcore fans of 90s era Modest Mouse have lamented. While it may be ebullient on the surface, one might glean an even darker value with lines such as "We just want to go walking around and feel what it's like to fall down" or the simple futility in the line "We all try harder as the days run out". While it may not be the most foot stomp worthy track or the best song to play while feeling low, it could easily find a home on Good News for People Who Love Bad News. This is good news if you particularly enjoyed that album.
Next we have "History Sticks to Your Feet" and here I am oddly reminded of "Here it Comes". Indeed, it seems to be that song's twin, simply born eight years later and with a heavier heart. I think it may be best to leave this tune more of a mystery and let the listener create their own experience with Brock's lyrics. Musically, however, the track falls short in a way that "Satellite Skin" did.
The next two tracks are B-sides (it is a common misconception that all the songs on here are B-sides but some were actually recorded for this EP) and they would be "King Rat" and "I've Got It All(most)" respectively. There is little to say about the latter, other than it is the lesser brother of songs such as "World At Large" and "Ocean Breathes Salty". Yet, in "King Rat" we may find ourselves scratching our heads as to why the band chose to leave it off We Were Dead before the Ship Even Sank. "King Rat" is an epic yarn of immoral activity (We laughed about paying rent/'Cause the county jails, they're free) and lives up to the idea of being a "nautical balalaika carnival romp." It is strange and untraditional; a feature which is what won Modest Mouse their initial fans.
Overall, No One's First and You're Next stirs up the radio friendly quality of their previous outing while managing to push the band in a direction that those who swear by The Lonesome Crowded West will be pleased with. Will that make them happy? Of course not, this isn't a disc filled with "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine" parts one through eight.