On Nov. 23, 2005 I moved to The Hague from Washington, DC. This is my new Dutch life.


We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

File this one under "I didn't see that one coming."

I rarely talk about music anymore, but I'm breaking my silence because I'm just so surprised. To some of you, this may not be new, but in my non-English speaking corner of the world most news travels slowly. Except of course that I knew before most of you that Anna Nicole Smith left the land of the living the other night. Thanks to my Google News homepage, I keep up with what's important.

Anyway, what I wanted to talk about today is Modest Mouse. Now they've been around for a good, long while slowly but surely amassing quite a following. Interestingly, the last live show I went to was Modest Mouse at the new Black Cat in Washington, DC just after it opened. It was around the time that my band broke up and my old roommate D- dragged me out to cheer me up. Modest Mouse was not the kind of band that appeals to the DC music scensters, so we figured that I wouldn't run into anyone I know, you know all those people that might stare at me with an uncomfortable mix if pity and smugness.

I'd known about Modest Mouse for ages, but this show was the first time I really listened to them. I've been a fan ever since, and their albums remain in heavy rotation on my iPod. See, they sit well next to my favorite band, The Flaming Lips, with their dopey-sounding yet insightful lyrics and unexpected melodies that are at once playful and dark. Also like The Flaming Lips, they've mellowed and matured over time like a fine Belgian beer - it goes down a bit smoother, but it still has a kick. I was especially keyed when I read that The Flaming Lips mixed the song "The Good Times are Killing Me" from the "Good News for People who Love Bad News" album. Yes sir.

Fast forward to yesterday. I'm listening to a podcast of "All Songs Considered", an NPR show that recently turned up on iTunes (I couldn't get by without iTunes), when they start playing the new Modest Mouse single, "Dashboard." I'm thinking it sounds a bit different, brighter somehow. It has an 80's quality, but in a good way, that seems a bit odd for a band that's been around since the early 1990s. When the song finished, the podcast DJ guy informs me that Johnny Marr is now a member of Modest Mouse.

Huh what?

Johnny Marr was, of course, the guitarist of The Smiths, whose break up was one of the most shocking and shattering things to happen to me in high school, not the least because I never got to see them live. The break up was topped only by the release of the insipid song, "Friday I'm in Love," which marked the end, not the beginning of the end, of The Cure. After both of those incidents, I lost faith in music that aims to be meaningful or make a big statement, resulting in my still-lingering preference for electronica and garage bands.

In one of the most unlikely yet perfect pairings, Johnny Marr has brought his special brand of melancholy yet shiny, jangly guitar to Modest Mouse and the result is divine, sublime even. Marr is no stranger to adding a bit of lift to dark material, and he does Modest Mouse no disservice. The opening of "Dashboard" is pure Marr, though I won't cheapen the song by likening the riff to The Smiths. "Dashboard" stands on its own. Isaac Brock is no Morrissey and when his vocals kick in, you know you're in for something a little different. My favorite part of the song has no obvious connection to Marr, however. The swoony violin bridge has a kind of silk road thing going on that makes me want to don a backpack and hit the road. Overall, "Dashboard" has an epic quality that makes you feel like you're in a music video when walking down the street listening to your iPod. I feel that way about Pulp's "Disco 2000."

I'm pretty cynical about music after years working at a radio station. I gravitate to quirky, odd, and above all unique gems. I haven't been impressed with the singer-song writer trend that indierock has been on lately. And I really don't like alt country. But it may seem surprising that I'd glom on to what some may consider mainstream. Sure sure the "also bought" list for "Dashboard" on iTunes includes Dave Matthews Band, oh gawd. But I swear, this song is good - one of the best I've heard in a long time.

Visit the band's Epic Records site to hear the song. It loads up immediately. Dreamy.



Blogger Reid said...

I love what Johnny Marr's done post-Smiths: basically, he finds a band he likes and then joins it. He already has all the money he needs, so he just wants to play music that he's into.

Give "Friday I'm In Love" another shot. I think that with both that and "Just Like Heaven", the cure absolutely nailed the sell-out single like no one else.

3:46 PM GMT+1

Blogger akaijen said...

My problem with "Friday I'm in Love" is that it's just so stupid. The music, the lyrics. Fat Bob clearly threw it together in five minutes, and no doubt he laughed all the way to the bank. In that, I give him mad props. I just can't stand it, and you know I've heard it since 1992.

But man, Reid. There I was at the Woodlands Pavillion after two flat tires and a hitched ride with McDonald's execs on the trip from San Antonio to Houston amidst a crowd of bo-bos who were clearly not as into The Cure as I was going nutso for "Friday I'm in Love." I was so pissed that these new and certainly not as sincere Cure fans went mad when that song came on. No no they couldn't get off their picnic blankets for "Jumping Someone Else's Train." Heh, you can see I have not let go of my teenaged way of thinking when it comes to this topic. ;)

But I know you get me. There is a certain betrayal that comes after obsessing over something for years only to see it sell out in a blink of an eye. I also carry a slight grudge against my parents for not driving me to Dallas two years before for the Distintigration Tour which everyone says was much better. Before that I lived in the middle of nowhere Kansas and didn't even have the opportunity not to be allowed to go see them.

Anyway, modest mouse = good. ;)

4:12 PM GMT+1

Blogger Christian said...

You should write about music more, Jen; you have a knack for it. I really enjoyed this post. As for Marr-dest Mouse...yeah, didn't that one coming either! Definitely curious to hear what Marr brings to MM. Incidentally "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank" is a fantastic album title.

4:57 PM GMT+1

Blogger Christian said...

It just occurred to me that I have a music recommendation that is totally up the Red Menace alley: the band is called Hot Chip and the album is The Warning. I think it is totally up your alley. Electronic beats and textures, but insanely catchy songs. Have you heard it?

5:06 PM GMT+1

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmm, liked the review. Glad to see someone out there who understands the evolution of music. I grew up listening to Modest Mouse, but unlike my friends, I don't call them sell outs. No one wants to work as a cashier their whole lives. Everyone moves up, or moves down. Rarely does someone stay in the same place and if they do it's usually because of some outside force. So again, glad to see someone who has a clue as to how this band has evolved.

You should check out Red Stars Theory, if you haven't already. Jeremiah plays drums for them, and if you can think of the chicks name that sings for them, please let me know. I completely forgot, I know she was a huge indie voice on one of the record labels up in seattle. K or suicide squeeze or sub pop, one of them I think.

If you can think of it just send me a message on my site www.medeapia.com I suppose it's time for me to write a Modest Mouse review on there as well.

2:11 AM GMT+1

Blogger akaijen said...

Xtian - I will check out Hot Chip as soon as I get my new credit card from my bank. I called them about some suspicious activity on my acct, so they shut it down. No iTunes for me until I get the new card and update iTunes. bummer! Also, how come you don't blog?

Anthonylicari - I haven't heard Red Stars Theory, but I will also check them out. About bands selling out - i could probably write a whole essay about this topic - maybe I'll devote a blog entry to it sometime. But the short of it is, I think the concept is rooted in the delusions of the fans who think they understand the musicians b/c they heard a few interviews and identify with the lyrics. It's almost like an obsessed lover who wants to keep the band all to themselves. When a band becomes popular, it's a knee jerk reaction to feel somewhat betrayed and then blame the band for your feelings.

1:38 PM GMT+1


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