Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves review

By | May 17, 2015

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Before I say anything about Strangers to Ourselves, I have to preface by saying that I listened to this album no less than 25 times over the course of several weeks.  I paid attention.  I listened.  I re-listened.  My assertions are not without a great deal of introspection, checking and rechecking.  Enjoy and thank you to Amazon Prime Music for quick access to this album and x-ray lyrics on all tracks.

Modest Mouse played a trick on us.  They didn’t release one album in March of this year.  No, no, no.  They actually released an EP and an LP simultaneously.  Sure.  They are packaged together, sold together, play in order on iTunes and have the same name.  Trust me, though.  Strangers to Ourselves is two separate works created by a band with a history of Left of Center sensibilities.

Confused?  So was I when I first listened to Strangers to Ourselves.  Generally, the first four tracks are weird.  The title track is a drag before the radio-friendly pop of “Lampshades on Fire.”  Track 3 and 4 are needlessly, explicitly vulgar and I love needless vulgarity.  In fact, “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996) would fit in better on a Ted Nugent record between “Wango Tango” and “Cat Scratch Fever.”

Then track five hits with an optimistic, lighter direction.  The music, lyrics and tone merge into a connectedness lacking on the first four tracks.  The “Here we go” to lead off the song signifies (to me) that this is the true beginning of the album.  “Ansel” speaks of the narrator’s brother being lost during a mountain climb with the theme of never knowing when you will depart this life and when others in your life will leave you.

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“I guess you never know.  You can’t know, well, you can’t ever really know.  Would you really want to know?  How the hell could you know?  … No, you don’t know.”

The following tracks continue to explore views on the meaning of life, the ways of the world, the power of the future and role of the past.

“Pups to Dust” is probably my favorite track and Isaac’s ability to boil complex views of his world down into simple snippets amazes me.

“We’re learning slowly – equal parts of what you do, you don’t” says to me that you can define yourself by what you don’t do as much as what you do.

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“The way we feel about what we do is by who has watched us” says that notions of good/ bad or right/ wrong are only based on the feedback we get from the environment that surrounds us.  Perception is reality.  So good – so, so good.

The tracks are strong.  Their pace, energy and structure fit well together and continue building on the theme of the world we’re in, the people that fill it and how to survive in it.

“Sugar Boats” is, at times, my least favorite track (it really changes depending on the day for me) but it continues with the theme of not knowing where we’re going.

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“This rock of ours is just one big mistake and we will never know just where we go or where we have came from”

The album culminates with the track “Of Course We Knew.”  It perfectly closes out the notion of the album really beginning on track five because “Of Course We Knew” refers back to “Ansel.”  The fifth track focuses on the idea that you can never know (Know when you will die, but generically, what life has in store for you).  While the final track begins by repeating the view: “Of course we do not know” it later transitions into contradicting the entire premise.

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The lyrics focus on death (appropriately enough for a final track) and as the narrator instructs the listener to “let down your guard” and “lay down your own damn soul” he sneaks in the line “Of course we know.”  Wow.  Blown away.  What makes such an impact on me is the believability of the line.  Maybe we do know.  Maybe people spend so much time trying to figure things out and learn information, but maybe just maybe, we already know everything that we need to know.

Love it.  Love it.  Love it.

After listening to the album several times through, it made me gain an appreciation of the first four tracks.  Even though they don’t fit in, they are decent tracks that stand well independently.  Think of them as a 4-song ep that stands alone and apart from Strangers to Ourselves.  Need more evidence?  The lyric “We are strangers to ourselves” appears in the track “The Tortoise and the Tourist.”  Name for me another album that features a title track and another track that features the title as a lyric.  No.  Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” doesn’t count.  Nice try.

Consume.Review.Repeat. rates Strangers to Ourselves 9.2 Indians and assholes out of 10.

Listen to Strangers to Ourselves tracks 5-15 a few times and I’m sure you’ll be convinced.  Afterwards, go back and listen to Sun Kil Moon’s covers of “Ocean Breathes Salty” and “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes.”

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