Critics' Picks

Modest Mouse

The overwhelming bleakness of the Pacific Northwest has produced more than its fair share of melancholy artists, people both inspired to genius and doomed to failure by their dismal surroundings. Kurt Cobain is probably the most famous, the so-called spokesman for his generation who ended up on the wrong side of celebrity and, tragically, a shotgun. Cobain wasn't alone, just better known than the others. Tobias Wolff captured it best in his 1989 memoir This Boy's Life--the way growing up in a small, dreary Washington town, and the alcoholism, depression, and boredom that go along with it can permanently affect someone, anyone.

More than likely, the area has also affected Modest Mouse, at least judging from the trio's art-damaged, introspective rock. Formed in 1993 in the small town of Issaquah, Washington (near Olympia), by singer-guitarist Issac Brock, bassist Eric Judy, and drummer Jeremiah Green, the group is one of the most respected acts in the indie-rock community, warranting sellout crowds and multi-night stays across the country. And now, it brings that respect to Epic Records, which will release Modest Mouse's fourth album, The Moon & Antarctica, in the next few weeks.

Epic has taken a large chance in trying to push Modest Mouse on mainstream audiences, one that more than likely will not pay off. The band's friend and spokesman, James Stockstill, describes the songs of Modest Mouse as "speaking of travels to and from nowhere, with character sketches of the random lives that are unavoidable to those who have spent enough hours searching for the meaning behind their own reality." As for the group's forthcoming album, The Moon & Antarctica, Stockstill says it contains "themes of lost identity, spiritual betrayal, social and mental isolation, occasional self-loathing, and questions to the origin, nature, and intent of fate." Think the Kmart shopper got all that?

Modest Mouse has certainly struck a successful chord with college audiences and other music fans across the country, as their three-night stands in 2000-person capacity halls like New York's Bowery Ballroom and San Francisco's Great American Music Hall will attest. Fans of the band have grown to love the driving yet mellow sound of Modest Mouse, a sound that approaches the feeling of taking a nap in a speeding car. The new album should not be a disappoinment, although it is less forceful than some of the band's previous albums, such as 1996's This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About and 1997's The Lonesome Crowded West. Nothing will likely top the complexity of The Lonseome Crowded West, which displays the rejection of manifest destiny and the dehumanizing effect of cities and modernity upon the original, rural West. But, if nothing else, a major-label budget will give Modest Mouse plenty of opportunities to try.

Yuval Weber