Bred from the Pacific Northwest, the indie trio of Modest Mouse can reference their earlier days to both Calvin Johnson’s K Records and Chris Takino’s Up Records labels, home to a veritable oasis of rock in the late ’90s with bands like Beat Happening, Mirah, Quazi, and Built to Spill. Having left the indie labels behind in 2000, this is their second full-length album for Sony, the debut being the favorably received melancholic, abstract pop of Moon and Antarctica. With Good News for People Who like Bad News, they’ve taken the sound of their heritage and exposed it to the world. While the lyrics are colorfully painted abstract landscapes, they have decided to go against the tendency of despair that contemporary bands introspective in nature have and created a work that is an affirmation of all that we live with. It’s bittersweet at times, but so is life, and ultimately they are attempting to give people a realization of hope.
Prone to their occasional freak-outs of rock, Modest Mouse shows little restraint, holding nothing back. The production value here is near flawless as Dennis Herring, whose previous production credits include Buddy Guy, Counting Crows, and Camper Van Beethoven, blends together the full range of the trio’s talents with the assistance of Dave Fridmann of Flaming Lips notoriety on the mixing boards. Utilizing a cacophony of song techniques, the album moves through atmospheric soundscapes, lively pop chants, soft piano and string ballads, Dixie blues, wily horns courtesy of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, bluegrass focal banjos, grind organs, and of course some no wave indie.
Isaac Brock’s voice is still very disjointed a staccato at times, but combined with the layering of harmonies and the down-home, country twang in his voice it pulls the listener into the music. Furthermore, Brock’s catchy guitar riffs blend nicely with Eric Jud’s rhythms on bass and Jeremiah Green’s percussion that always give either an appropriate low key or shaking dance beat depending on what the song calls for.
The album follows together in a quite cohesive manner. The initial scene setter of “Horn Intro” sets the mood as Brock states that, “I moved on to another day / In a whole new town with a whole new way.” The album runs throughout the gambit of frustrations life may give us, foremost with the idea of change. It moves next to the first single “Float On.” Brock sings in a chant like manner trying to pry one’s soul out of their daydream haze, singing, “Don’t worry, even if things end up a bit too heavy, we’ll all float on alright.”
The album continues to pick up steam with “Dig Your Grave,” one of the more danceable tunes that has Brock relating, “Fads they come, fads they go, but god I love that rock and roll.” In “Bukowski” he tells of though he loves Charles’ writing, he wonders, “who would want to be such an asshole.” “The Devil’s Work Day” sounds lifted from a Tom Waits album with the Dirty Dozen Brass band lending a New Orleans horn sound much like Radiohead’s, “Life In a Glass House.” “The View” is another indie dance track with the romantic ponderings of, “If life’s not beautiful without the pain, well I would rather never see beauty again.” The bluesy “Satin in a Coffin” asks the listener, “Are you dead or are you sleeping?” “Blame It on the Tetons” is a sweet ballad that has a country feel to it making the observation, “everyone’s a burning building with no one to put the fire out.” “One Chance” is another track of hope where Brock tells how, “my friends, my habits, my family mean so much to me.” Finally in the conclusion to the album we are left with the thought that, “I guess the good times were just killing me.”
Like with any album, you may need to give it a little time before its impact sits in, though with the first listen it’s evident that this is a piece of magnificent, conscientious rock. Then with each additional replay, you can pick up the little bits of intricacies that make this album solid, with the various musical experiments and the ponderings of Brock’s lyrics.
Ross Whitsett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org