MODEST MOUSE – THIS IS A LONG DRIVE FOR SOMEONE WITH NOTHING TO THINK ABOUT (1996)
To many a typical ‘radio-and-tv-media-consumer’, the band known as Modest Mouse essentially only became relevant when their single “Float On” – a tack off their fourth album, “Good News For People Who Like Bad News” – was released, coupled along with it’s extremely popular video added to Vh1 and MTV rotations in 2004/2005. Obviously, for many fans of the band, the true appeal of Modest Mouse extends far further back into their first few albums, such as their debut “This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About” in 1996. Like many casually/lazily “indie” labeled bands (Indie now often refers to an aesthetic, attitude and sound, and often takes for granted that these bands are somehow also “independent”, which isn’t always the case) there is always a strange battle between making more experimental and unique music, and with creating more straight-forward and poppy music: Modest Mouse’s evolution, among plenty others, over the years is a prime example of this struggle. Music found on We Were Dead Before The Ship Sank is pretty estranged from their debut, though if anything remains consistent between all the albums is Isaac Brock’s vocal approach – which is probably the most defining characteristic of the band, at least by the last two album.
“This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About” is a rather bizarre album for anyone who had just listened to the bands most recent two albums. While I’m no stranger to odd/experimental/unique music, to say the least, especially in genres far more audibly aggressive (Noise, metal, ect), this is by no means an accessible album – no matter what the first few tracks try to do. What starts the album is is a very calming, clear, and pleasant experience despite being uniquely contrasted by Isaac Brock’s wallowing vocal style and lo-fi recording quality which he has become known for, which is titled “Dramamine”. In my opinion, this first track is still one of their best, which is saying something considering I would say the song has plenty of stiff competition among the band’s more polished and concentrated tracks on later albums. It’s already clear by end of this first song that Modest Mouse stand out from the crowd, even among Indie music at that time and to this day, and particularly this album. Following the first song, is the somewhat garage rock-ish track “Breakthrough”, which switches back and forth between this new sound with the more mellow catchy side demonstrated in “Dramamine”. This is done for good effect, as it does create a strong energy during the chorus and the last half of the song, where a very simple yet engaging guitar solo is presented. By this point you begin to feel a good description of the band would be an odd meoldic, punk-ish, garage band.
Once the third song “Custom Concern” begins, Isaac Brock proceeds to provide a even further amplified vocal performance, with multiple layered vocals and different inflections also incorporated. The song continues the more relaxed and chilled-out vibe from “Dramamine”, and while it starts off rather shaky and messy, the song eventually quite easily memorizes in it’s simple groove and relaxed instrumentals. Then, you are hit rather abruptly by “Might”, which is very short track. To clarify, the track still features a more relaxed and calm instrumental, but the vocals become angry and frustrated, which immediately contrast. By this point, the album has begun to venture into true odd territory, as the track “Lounge” provides us with what at first seems like a blurry, muffled attempt at funk-punk track, and then ends with a few minutes of relaxed odd psychedelic and slightly baroque instrumental lingering. While the last half of this song DOES have a lot of layering and complexion to it, a very soft melodic wall-of-sound essentially, it goes on for far too long with seemingly little purpose and an abrupt end.
Once you hit “Beach Side Property”, you realize that album is perhaps trying to generate a very uncomfortable mood on purpose, though exactly why is up to anyone’s interpretation. Once again, you have a very exaggerated and powerful, occasionally slightly distorted, wallowing vocal performance accompanied by their strange soft-punk sound, being frequently transplanted with their more gentle slow and bass/drum driven side. The song does build up to what seems what will be a very and chaotic ending, though it feels like it’s needlessly dragging itself along. This is a problem with many of the songs on here: while their sound is an unique and interesting blend of styles and influences, they often can’t seem to justify the length of some of their songs with just their sound alone. Oftentimes, there are great sections and ideas, but they either get repeated to death or wander off and end up sounding irrelevant to how the song even started. It’s a shame, because their production is a perfect blend of intended lo-fi, and yet still very sophisticate. “Dog Paddle” is fun and strange, so I do like it’s inclusion, though it so easily could be seen as annoying after a while, as Isaac continues his contrasting emotional sing-howls.
“Tundra/Desert” is where the album goes rather crazy, as Desert is this just plain odd dance-y track, featuring strange samples and distorted guitars and various sounds all mixed together into a very ugly mixture. While listening, I constantly switch between liking the execution, and getting bored/irritated by it as it repeats and fails to go further in any interesting direction – though the inclusion of new drum work near the end spiced it up. “Ohio” and it’s slow instrumentation is straight up bland by this point in the album, though I do enjoy Isaac’s voice a lot when he does deeper vocal sections, and the guitar sound remains still ever catchy, even at this point in the album. “This Exit Does Not Exist” is another good funk-punk-garage band track, where it’s heavier and intense segments are done very well, and like the whole of this album, provides engaging and fun guitar work. However, like most songs by the last half of the album, it does drag on a bit. “Talking Shit About A Shitty Sunset” begins rather bland and seems like it will just be another instrumental lingering-fest, but the middle-half, it wins you over, and even when it eventually devolves into that – it provides actually fresh, and even further interesting guitar work and extremely catchy drums. The Baroque instrumentation even returns and compliments the song extremely well during the previously mentioned instrumental breakdown, though it disappears so quick into the slow and boring intro of “Make Everyone Happy/Mechanical Birds”. Similar to the last few songs, the intro here is set at a crawling pace, until the song builds up into a bizarre wall-of-sound, climax. Though I do enjoy this aspect of these songs, it just feels completely random at times, which isn’t necessary bad, but does make it feel like a less cohesive project.
I am aware that generating a strange, lingering, angst-y uncomfortable feeling could essentially be the whole point of this album, and I have no objections to it. Still, what the album seemed to have been doing well in the first 5 or 6 tracks of the album, they quickly forgot how to do, and then just learned how to make a few interesting and extremely energetic instrumental breakdowns in the last half. While I do greatly enjoy Isaac’s vocal delivery, and the contrast it provides in many of the songs, it doesn’t always work here, and unfortunately is just often annoying as it is very suiting and interesting.
I do recommend this album to people, though I think it’s very difficult to approach and digest after the first few songs. If the sound that the band presented here isn’t something you immediately love, the album is likely going to have points in which it meanders for no reason, or just gets annoying. The album DOES get high praise for the fantastic guitar work and the overall production style, which allows the music to sound meancing, psychadelic, and punk-y without having too have much sheer sound quality stripped away. As a debut album, it’s hard to expect many bands to do any better, but it definitely demonstrated potential with the band’s refreshing new sound.