No One’s First and You’re Next

Band: Modest Mouse
Album: No One’s First and You’re Next
Best song: “Autumn Beds” is great. “Perpetual Motion Machine” and “Satellite Skin” are probably the best songs on the EP.
Worst song: “History Sticks To Your Feet” isn’t great.

I should like Modest Mouse a lot more than I do. The band used to do a certain type of music really well; angular guitars, intricate drum lines and quirky lyrics dotted Modest Mouse records. Always compared to Built To Spill (a favorite), the band plays music I should enjoy. Since the band’s maturation and move to a major label, Isaac Brock and Co. have gained more genre work and now use banjos and brass to augment Brock’s songwriting.

I never got into Modest Mouse (as much as I should, I guess) because of a bunch of different things. Brock had a reputation among my college radio station friends as being something of a prickly individual with little use for our little Midwestern burg. Similarly, his vocal delivery always seemed like a bad cop of Stephen Malkmus crossed with Bob Dylan (neither a good vocalist). So, I’ve never really struck with Modest Mouse.

Still, I have a few of the band’s records and I certainly fancy Brock a good songwriter. Despite his vocal problems — “Float On” would be one of my favorite songs if not for Brock’s singing — Brock has a knack for putting together interesting guitar lines and mind-bending lyrics.

The band has gone through several changes since I last really looked into it (college). The drummer left and came back (the band now has two drummers). Johnny Marr of the Smiths somehow is now a member. The band has collaborated with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and had a number one album. They were up for some MTV Awards a few years back. It’s all very strange.

No One’s First and You’re Next is another EP of the band’s b-sides and rarities from the last two albums, 2007’s We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank and 2004’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News. It’s a fine group of songs that continues the band’s streak of music I should like. Only this time, I like it more than I probably should.

AV Club’s Josh Modell brought up a good point in his review of thise record: Modest Mouse’s (arguably) best song came from a Modest Mouse rarity compilation. “Never Ending Math Equation” is the band’s greatest work.

And so goes No One’s First and You’re Next. The songs on the record are decidedly Modest Mouse-ish, with Brock attempting to lullaby listeners on “Autumn Beds,” while wailing on them on other songs. Indeed, “Autumn Beds” is one of Brock’s best melodies and a ton of wonderful soft(ish) arrangement. “The Whale Song” is one of Brock’s most epic pieces, spanning six minutes and a few changes.

“Perpetual Motion Machine” features the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and their contribution gives the song a circus feel that the band has moved toward. Lyrically, it’s a creepy look at mortality that brings up the “Is Ike Brock really crazy?” question that seems haunt him whenever the band plays a show. The midtempo stomp of the song never lifts off, but it remains a wonderful move into a different genre.

The album opener and highlight, “Satellite Skin,” has a has his growling lyrics played over a xylophone, all leading into a Built To Spill-ish guitar lead line. The lyrics (“Was it easier to say than was actually done?”) reflect Brock’s distrust and his vocals provide an easy spark for said distrust. The guitar work is among his best and the song. The video’s bizarre stop-motion animation (here, directed by the guy who used to do Tool videos) provides an eery image party for the song.

“King Rat” is sorta famous for having a video directed by Heath Ledger (well, partially. He died before it was finished.). It’s a fun song, the type of song wherein Brock’s shouting overpowers the normally great guitar work. Banjos begin and trumpets flare, the song rolls like a gunshot and it continues to build throughout the 5:30 of the song. The violin line is somber and evocative.

The video (click here because I can’t embed it) is pretty grizzly, with whales commanding a, uh, whaling ship that spears humans to be ground up for seal food. Proceeds from the single go to an anti-whaling organization (which, by the way, is needed. That shit is horrifying and whales are going to go extinct if we don’t do something.).

I’d actually say that No One’s First and You’re Next is better than Modest Mouse’s last effort, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. It’s fuller, with better melodies. Brock’s singing takes it down a notch, but as a songwriter, he remains strong.

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  • By The Sunset Tree | Albums That I Own on October 5, 2010 at 10:45 am

    […] so desperately want to enjoy the Mountain Goats. Like Modest Mouse in my earlier years, John Darnielle does something really interesting and writes outstandingly smart music. But that […]

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    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

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