I must confess, the first Modest Mouse album that ever graced my ears was Good News For People Who Love Bad News (2004), the album that produced one of the catchiest damn radio hits from a scrawny indie band (you know the one) ever. Ever since, the Issaquah, WA band has never quite been able to escape the limelight. Consequently, diehard fans of their earlier work would claim that you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you neglected to rifle through their discography, retrospectively. The album preceding GNFPWLBN was The Moon & Antarctica (2000), and since that’s not the album I chose to talk about today, I’ll keep it real short and say that it’s nearly goddamn perfect. So listen to it. Shoo. But its 1997 predecessor, The Lonesome Crowded West, is not to be overlooked.
Earlier this year, Pitchfork released a forty-five minute documentary on the making of The Lonesome Crowded West. It’s a rare look into the humble beginnings of a band that would later become stadium sellers, at a time when most of them weren’t old enough to get drinks at the bars they were playing in. Some of my favorite moments are the interviews with Isaac Brock himself, declaring his contempt for urban sprawl with a pronounced lisp and a sleeping cat draped upon his lap. Another shining moment is a short clip of the late Elliott Smith, shyly admitting that the upcoming Modest Mouse were “innovative and emotional.” There’s an interview with Modest Mouse’s arguably biggest influence and contemporary, the recently established Built to Spill, also singing the young band’s praises. The doc delves into each song individually, beginning with the moody, semi-autobiographical “Trailer Trash,” an angsty, yet tongue-in-cheek image of a broken trailer park family, a “short love and a long divorce / with a couple of kids of course,” and the protagonist “shouting that you’re all fakes!” in a Holden Caulfield-like fashion. “Trucker’s Atlas” is a rolicking, ten-minute ode to the life of a touring band in a time before GPS and smart phones. “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine” functions as an introductory piece to the whole album, and proves to be an elegant teaser of the many reaches of Isaac’s voice and emotion displayed throughout the record. “Doin The Cockroach” breaks out into a drum-heavy groove number, daring the audience not to dance. “I’m trying to drink away the part of the day that I cannot sleep away” laments Brock on “Polar Opposites,” becoming one of the most memorable and awfully apt lyrics of the album.
It’s an album for modern-age transcendentalists, for those who think strip-malls are ugly as hell, for those who get drunk on the Amtrak and who have ever had the urge to skip out on responsibility and road trip across the country. It was a prophetic album that pumped life into American post-punk at a crucial time, and is still a joyous listen nearly fifteen years later.