Remember Modest Mouse? The Pacific Northwest indie act had critical acclaim in the nineties before moving to a major label in this century/millennium and finding commercial success. 2004’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News was, for many, an alt-breakthrough on the level of The Strokes’ Is This It or Arcade Fire’s Funeral. 2007 saw them follow that up with We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (QRO review), and then… nothing. Well, Johnny Marr of The Smith joined the band & left (for The Cribs, then a solo career – QRO solo live review). There were numerous reissues of earlier records, and they managed to still sell big venues & headline festivals (QRO photos headlining a recent festival), but nothing new until now. Is Strangers To Ourselves worth the entire wait? Well, that would be hard, despite its overstuffed nature, but it certainly sees Modest Mouse being Modest Mouse – and more.
At fifteen tracks (with rumors of second album’s worth of material ready to go as well), Strangers certainly brings a lot of music to answer the long hiatus. Mostly, it traffics in the energetic, somewhat dark disjointedness that put Modest Mouse on the map, while also trying to do more with that. “Lampshades On Fire” is ‘straight’ MM, while the following “Shit In Your Cut” is slower, “Ansel” relaxed & brighter, there’s a strong pressure to “The Ground Walks, With Time In a Box”, a natural element to “Coyotes”, almost country “Pups to Dust”, a more aggressive “The Tortoise and the Tourist”, and a hopping “The Best Room”.
But with fifteen songs, there’s also room for more, but largely to lesser effect. “Wicked Campaign” is some nice bright synths, and “God Is an Indian and You’re an Asshole” a decent country jam diversion. But on “Sugar Boats” Modest Mouse randomly channel another MM, the Viking-vaudeville Man Man (QRO live review), while “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, Fl. 1996)” is some utterly unnecessary mock-overdone beats & voices that don’t even justify writing out that full title. And the record’s got a (re-)introduction & goodbye at the start & finish, “Strangers To Ourselves” & “Of Course We Know”.
After all this time, it’s impressive that Modest Mouse have been able to stay relevant and desired, and it’s no wonder that the group wants to do more than just release another Modest Mouse album. And even if they probably should have just stuck to themselves, Strangers To Ourselves is a definite return of an important twenty-first century alternative act.