The alienating, yet playful Modest Mouse have always adhered to a few characteristics, in my opinion, such as playing like it’s their last chance and never letting anyone (in this case, fans and critics) catch on. Both distinctions give the band an intriguing aura and at the same time leave their music inaccessible to the masses. “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” the band’s fifth album, is nothing if not in keeping with this tradition of subversive, yet interestingly atypical music.
Much in the vein of “Good News for People Who Like Bad News” and “The Moon & Antarctica” (although not as good as either of those two albums), “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” takes what would appear to be traditional pop melodies and tears them apart until their coarse, ugly and refreshingly original. Lead singer/songwriter Isaac Brock has made a career out of being vague and morose, particularly with his throaty, overly theatrical voice and unpolished lyrics that sound like they were conceived in a philosophy class.
Songs like “Florida,” “We’ve Got Everything” and the single “Dashboard” are familiar sounding and rather radio-friendly, while songs like “Little Motel,” “Missed The Boat” and “People as Places as People” have a sophistication that adds some new layers to the Modest Mouse mix. “Little Motel” in particular is rather consistent and clean for a band like this, but it’s a welcomed inclusion, being that it’s the best song on the album.
While the album is far from perfect, it never feels trivial or deliberate in its aberrant approach, and it transcends enough indie band clich