Saturday, December 12, 2009

How the world began

I don't think I've devoted enough blog-space to Modest Mouse, easily one of my favorite bands of all time. Maybe it's because they haven't done anything since 'Float On' that's been really worth talking about. That aside, going into their back catalogue is infinitely rewarding: their early material is so rich with emotions and ideas, and their sound is so original and distinctive. My most recent fix has been the opening track off The Moon and Antarctica, entitled '3rd Planet.' Isaac Brock is one of pop music great song writers, but he outdoes himself here by shunning his traditionally graphic philosophical musings for something, dare I say, poetic? My favorite lyric in the song (and possibly my favorite Brock lyric of all time, which is saying a hell of a lot) occurs in the first verse, and goes as follows:

The third planet is certain they're being watched
By an eye in the sky that can't be stopped
When you get to the promised land
You're gonna shake that eyes hand

Your heart felt good
It was dripping pitch and made of wood
And your hands, and knees
Felt cold and wet on the grass to me
While outside naked, shivering looking blue
From the cold sunlight that's reflected off the moon
And baby cum angels fly around you
Reminding me we used to be three and not just two
And that's how the world began
And that's how the world will end

In between the fourth and fifth lines above a lazy acoustic strum is interrupted by a cymbal crash and five successive beats led by ringing electric guitar notes that repeat, then change chord. It's a remarkable moment, and Brock's accompanying lyrics are beautifully evocative of something: a naked couple lying on the ground outside on a cold night staring at the moon? Contemplating love, sex, creation, and existence perhaps? It's grand, but Brock is always swinging for the fences when it comes to making sense of the ball of confusion that is earth, or even more grandly, the universe. Enormous and minute problems are all of equal magnitude to Brock, which might be why is able to imbue simple expression with intense emotional weight. Take the track 'Broke', another of my recent kicks off of the fantastic Building Nothing Out of Something compilation, in which Brock plays with the titular word to find deeper meanings in everyday events:

Broken glasses but it broke the ice
You said that I was an asshole and I'd pay the price

Broken hearts want broken necks
I've done some things that I sort of regret but I can't

Backed by the trailer trash emo sound of early Mouse, and sung in Brock's cracked lisp, these words take on a compelling resonance. They're the sort of simple but endlessly sad and profound ideas one might expect from a white trash high school dropout. That Brock does so in such an authentic, unconcious matter adds a lot; Modest Mouse songs work because the guys in the band are genuine fuck-ups. If they weren't, there's know way there music would sound so real. I'll close this fawning post with some more of my favorite Brock lyrics, from another Building Nothing cut, this one entitled 'Medication'. As you read these lyrics, imagine a glorious Hammond B3 organ accompaniment, and Brock's lonely caterwaul:

And I don't know
Well I could go away and you could wish that I had stayed
Or just stayed gone
And I don't know, at all
So out of the context
Then into what you meant
You don't know your reason
You don't know who you are, but you know who you want to be

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