Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Long bit of music criticism about Modest Mouse's The Lonesome Crowded West starting...


I was resentful of the dance-punk hype, the insinuation that indie kids didn't dance because they hated fun, were too uptight to like anything. There's some music where dancing just isn't the point, isn't what you're supposed to do, even if there's a groove. For me, alone in my bedroom in high school, listening to Modest Mouse's The Lonesome Crowded West, I paced. Back and forth.

There's a rhythm, a groove, but it's not coming from a funk place. It's coming, I feel, from a krautrock place if any such influence can be ascribed other than the pacific northwest nineteen-nineties scene, which- There's no reason to have that limited a framework, although it seems that what most critics did. And, yeah, not to deride that, or at least, the aspect Up Records released. It's kind of a paramount example of nineties indie rock, all treble and cool influences. But, like, krautrock's a cool influence.

The krautrock thing- There's a rhythm, yes, and the rhythm is the drive, but over that, beneath that, all over, there's just this guitar, which works with it, while just- It seems to do more. The songs don't seem written based on the chord progressions, or, if they were, they mutated and are now rhythm-driven. The guitar then just throbs, with rhythm, yeah, and melody, but dissonance as well. It just squeals about, throws noises out there, all while doing all the other things it's supposed to do.

The vocals and lyrics, too, seem rhythm-driven- Repetitious to a certain extent, but not in the pejorative sense. Music is repetition and variation, and there's enough variation to it all, especially in how it plays off of everything.

The Nude As The News review said that the album has verses and choruses, but which is which is hard to distinguish- Melodies and structures just get repeated throughout songs, and it's all groove-based, all based on that rhythmic framework. The vocals are just getting spat out, switching up as often as anything else, really, but repetitious enough.

It's pacing music- Different places in the room highlight certain sounds, but there's more to it. There's something introspective in pacing that isn't in dancing. It's more conducive to self-laceration. You can nod your head and sway your hips, you can feel the beat, but there's still a voice there, and it's still saying stuff, it's still coming in. Phrases repeat themselves for reinforcement, but get framed in new contexts. Not unlike how thoughts work when you're ruminating on a subject.

And the beat just goes on.

Whenever I think of this album, I think of something building, structures being erected, made of wood, wire, spiralling upward. All while I think of three men just bashing it the fuck out. Rhythms. Some of that is the imagery of buildings on the art. Some of that's the length- It's one second shy of an even seventy-four minutes. Towers are going to be brought to mind. But there's a certain kind of construction that builds a tower rather than just stacking a lot of small boxes into rows.

Third Planet, off The Moon And Antarctica, is more of an anthem, in some ways. More traditionally anthemic. Not that there's not stuff to sing along to here, or whatever- Certainly "I'm trying to drink away the part of the day I cannot sleep away" gets a lot of mileage. But so many songs on Lonesome Crowded West are just- yeah, krautrock- The Can kind, there's no motorik beat here. (And holy living fuck is Jeremiah Green a good drummer) There's this rhythm, and it shifts, and it builds on itself. So frequently the climax isn't the chorus- those are hard to find, after all- but the finale, where there's no more words, where the guitar is just getting the shit beat out of it, propelling the building ever upward, with the rest of it just whirring along with it, some kind of violent levitation. A similar enough principle applies to the end, which is mostly just drumming, although there's more going on beneath it than just a drumbeat.

No guitar on the finale to Jesus Christ Was An Only Child, just a fiddle melody, but again, the same principle, of melody as finale. That song, oh man, for all the other stuff I mentioned, that totally applies to this song, is also notable for the whole-

I'm not even talking about the themes. The religious stuff, the America stuff. But that's all there, in spades. Lyric-writing wise. Whatever. Listen to it and pick up the repeated phrases and all that stuff is there, it's great, lyrically, but musically, you know, the placing emotional climaxes on just instrumental works rather well. It works just as well when Isaac Brock screams out "I didn't move to the city, the city moved to me, and I! Want! Out! Desperately!" But that's not all the songs, you know?

But the religious stuff, I did want to address briefly, in that for mythology purposes, I fucking love that there's two guys in the band with Old Testament biblical names. And that one of them sings the line, about Jesus Christ, that God "shoulda' killed that little fucker before he even had."

And that's not even, again- that's not like the heart of the record, that line. That's a toss-off. There's other religious references- and by religious references, I mean toying with iconography, rather than direct allusions- that get more play. The last two songs, mostly acoustic instrument-driven, more traditional in instrumentation, pre-electronic stuff, (same holds true for Jesus Christ Was An Only Child, earlier- fiddle!) addresses the topic as well, more conclusively, if not so much more straight-forwardly.

It's just so tangled and so verbal, and so personal a discussion of these distinct things. It feels so bashed out, in a way which in some ways I prefer to the more orchestrated and produced stuff that- I enjoy a lot, that I'd call my favorite records, more sonically detailed things, better with sound, but this... For that stupid abstract concept of "rock and roll," this is as good as the traditional method gets. The more orchestrated stuff sometimes includes better songcraft, but- I mean, that's not rock and roll, is it? That's some kind of classical pop standard. This, you know, "rolls" more than that, with the groove emphasis. It also "rocks" harder than most of that stuff.

It's just that, while doing all that, it's actually interesting, despite/because of its oft-used materials. Other stuff is more moving, or is moving in a way that's rare and hard to find. But this is just great, just as this thing, this structure. It's not beautiful like a painting is beautiful, or a person; but like a building, some kind of architecture, and it's a big enough a thing to get lost in. And then find yourself pacing somewhere in the middle floors, in front of big giant glass windows, overlooking something else, although some kind of city with its presence in it, lost in thought as the weather outside reflects your inner thoughts back at you in some way only vaguely understandable, and when lightning strikes the building the power surges through and the lights maybe blink or flash but the threat of the building collapsing is never all that real.

And although that could've been an ending, I'm not intent to let that lie, because there's still more that needs to be discussed- The fact that an album is both its own complete thing like a novel or a film, but a document of a band at a point in time, and that so much coherence is just through the editing process of editing a collection of songs, of all the thoughts pertaining to a certain broad set of subjects down. To use a literary metaphor, it's a diary at the same time it's a novel with a narrative. The surrounding EPs and singles are all great, as was the albums that preceded and followed. The Lonesome Crowded West is just a guidebook to one way to write songs, one writing process for one group at a particular point in time. So aside from that "what a great album," it should be pointed out that Modest Mouse should be addressed very much in terms of "what a great band."

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