Album Review: Modest Mouse – The Golden Casket

7/10

Modest Mouse The Golden Casket

They love a bit of parochialism in Britain, so when you talk about Modest Mouse people largely remember them as being the band Johnny Marr was in before his solo career lit up.

In the US however, their trio of noughties releases – The Moon & Antarctica, Good News For People Who Love Bad News and 2007’s We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank – gave them the same commercial pulling power as The Arcade Fire, The National and The Shins; this era’s signature track Float On is nearing a quarter-of-a-billion streams on a well-known platform.

Marr left amicably in 2008 to join The Cribs, and seven years went by before new material emerged with the release of Strangers To Ourselves, while fans have had to endure a further six-year wait until the Portland-based outfit finished work on The Golden Casket.

The Mice are moved largely by frontman/songwriter Isaac Brock, who’s spent recent times happily caught up in domestic bliss, becoming a new parent again twice, the joy and purity of these relationships celebrated on Lace Your Shoes with lines like, ‘Cause the sunshine spills out your mouth and eyes/And out onto the floor’.

Outside that bubble however things are a lot more complicated: Brock gave an awkward interview as part of the promotion cycle during which he claimed in all seriousness that unspecified strangers were effectively trying to steal his thoughts.

If you call that paranoia, then you might judge that it’s seeped out, most specifically on Transmitting Receiving, on which thankfully the music is far more orthodox than the lyrics, a random sample being, ‘Vacuum cleaners, windows, lights, fans, scales, your smart device/We are repeating’, the babble shored up by something The Beta Band at their most lysergic would’ve jammed out.

This mixture of influences from the past and the present in Isaac’s life remains The Golden Casket’s dominant feature. The oddball funk of opener Fuck Your Acid Trip seems like it’s a lot of fun, but the psychedelics on second thought seem to be too much, although it’s never really clear whose high is getting cancelled.

On Wooden Soldiers the problem seems to lie with social media; ‘Hashtaggin’, photo braggin’, no one’s even sort of real/No wonder no one feels better than before’, while the scratchy, glam sounding Never Fuck A Spider On The Fly is a warning to trolls that to paraphrase somebody long gone, rolling with pigs gets everyone covered in shit.

For once though, on what’s been a long and difficult journey for everyone involved here, the scales balance. This equilibrium makes We Are Between – the most straightforward pop song by a distance – a wistful realisation that states of good or bad fortune are perceptional, while We’re Lucky (a track which began effectively conjoined to the former), complete with its desultory trumpet, is also unfamiliarly optimistic. It’s easy to get the impression that whilst it’s a strange, cosmic sort of happiness, it’s a genuinely heartfelt one.

For his part, Brock has said that Marr is welcome back to the Modest Mouse fold at any time. You guess it’s an offer that may never be taken up, but on The Golden Casket he pulls off the trick of not being held prisoner by the contrary information being pumped at us every second of every day.

Imperfect and sometimes confusing, it’s as close to hearing someone’s thoughts direct as you’ll get.

Andy Peterson
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