Modest Mouse – This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About
Record Label: Up Records
Release Date: February 27th, 1996
Modest Mouse's first full length release is one in which we find a band that is not so much grappling with identity problems but still having a tricky time of driving their sound home. To those who have yet to listen to Modest Mouse, this record will probably come across as abrasive and scratchy to the ear.
The seventy-three minute tour begins with "Dramamine" which is a plainly beautiful track in which the band's fondness for indulging in musical mischievousness is not lost in itself. It is clear why this is still a crowd pleaser at live shows. However, the following track "Breakthrough" represents the very abrasiveness I mentioned. While Brock's guitar play and Jeremiah Green's already brilliant drumming are apparent, it is gobbled up by the lo-fi intentions and might as well be absent.
"Custom Concern" on the other hand, is a very magnificently sung and well pieced together track. It's quite possibly the highlight of the record in many aspects, particularly Brock's lyrical work (The custom concern for the people/Build up the monuments and the steeples to wear out our eyes). Although the song carries the weight of a deeply troubled soul, it manages to steer clear of the outright depression that Modest Mouse's songs fall into on later albums. Up next is "Might", a fairly straightforward tune that does little for the record as a whole. Not much more needs to be said on that subject.
"Lounge" is a groovy track that lives up to its name musically in a way. Yet once again, Modest Mouse's lo-fi tendency obscures the first half of the song while the second half is merely a harmonious extravagance. Perhaps, Modest Mouse's charm (especially in these early days) was having the frustrating quality of being hard to get into. And that is "Lounge" to put it simply.
There are moments on This Is a Long Drive that are so intensely youthful, one can only wonder how they composed such philosophical numbers that were also sonically tight as "The Stars Are Projectors" and "Cowboy Dan" (yeah, I'm not kidding about the second one). While "Beach Side Property" has a common theme in "Cowboy Dan" (Town hasn't moved but is getting closer), it also boasts the pure jam quality of a neighborhood garage band. Those who fell in love with Modest Mouse on their first listen of "Float On" might find this unpolished sound a tad discouraging. Yet, those who grew up on mid 90s era indie rock will find "Beach Side Property" to be a shining example of what it was and all it could be.
"She Ionizes & Atomizes" is like a kid who wants to jump off from a high point on the swing set but his hands won't let go. What does that mean? I'm not quite sure but metaphors look good when writing reviews. I'm just being facetious! What I mean is that it doesn't get to the pay off soon enough. The last minute of the track is where the music catches up in quality to the lyrics (I'm feeling empty/The real lights can make you heavy/But never ever really empty/Fluorescent lights will always equal empty). On the other hand, "Head South" is the next album highlight. It features a character who is ashamed of themselves, and thus they change their appearance only to realize they are no better off than they were before.
"Dog Paddle" is an interesting two minute ride but it's not much more than that. Here, "interesting" means; a song that has something to say but is lost in a barrage of dull background noise. Moving on, we have "Novocain Stain" which is a remarkably handsome song if you will allow me to put forth a description utilizing personification. That was wordier than I would have liked. Anyways, "Novocain Stain" is the best track on the record that showcases Jeremiah Green's drum talent, even in these early days of the band. It would be a little wearisome if I were to praise Brock's lyrical work in every description, so let me just say that throughout the record, it is top notch.
Track eleven is called "Tundra/Desert" and I shall now compare it to a popular film. If you have ever seen the movie Tombstone, then you know that Wyatt Earp seems to be a docile gentleman in the beginning. Then, he descends into madness until he rides with Hell on his heels. That's a good way to look at "Tundra/Desert". It's also entertaining in the way Tombstone is, without the annoying historical inaccuracies. "Ohio" is my lover. It's about travelling and you will like it.
Next, is "Exit Does Not Exist" and it may be best to just quote the song. "Does not exist, take an exit. I hear voices insinuating, feed my lyrics to this song that I am saying. Sunlight-7:20 PM, early September. Standing looking at a photograph, that you do not remember being taken. You look out of breath and me like I am faking. As a matter of fact, I don't recall this photo being taken. You don't even actually exist so I just started shaking. Does not exist, take an exit." The words are as charismatic as the instrumentation.
"Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset" is a contender for best track on the record. If I could ever scratch a song from an album, I would pick the one which follows it. That's how much better it is but as Isaac would say, "…you can't make everybody happy". He's right and the listener knows that. A feature which makes Brock's words so appealing that one easily forgives him for any faults over the album's sixteen songs. The album closes with "Space Travel is Boring", and although it falls a little short of the two minute mark, it is not a boring tune but neither is it essential.
So ends the long excursion that is Modest Mouse's first full length. Like any road, it has its high points and its low. The scenery is nice, even if the driver has that peculiar narration which occasionally gets on your nerves. All the same, compositions such as "Dramamine", "Custom Concern" and "Talking Shit about a Pretty Sunset" are capable of completely dissolving any apprehensions you may have had before you set off.
I fucking love this album. I disagree with you on a couple of the songs, especially when it comes to the lo-fi stuff, and there are some places where the review seems to snag a bit, but otherwise solid.
even if the driver has that peculiar narration which occasionally gets on your nerves
Well to me this album is tricky. It has 2 of my favorite songs including Dramamine and Tundra. Songs like break through and customer concern are good. But then theres tracks like beach side, lounge, head south, and alot of others that i find myself skipping through.