With a career spanning 16 years, five studio albums, and numerous EPs, B-sides, and singles, Modest Mouse has created a massive, albeit relatively silent, following.
The problem with Modest Mouse is that it’s one of those bands that you either love or hate; there is no middle ground. The reason behind this is frontman Isaac Brock’s style of singing. From deep, raspy musings to high-pitched yelps, his voice is often sporadic and jittery, leaving the listener unsure of where he is going next. This is most evident in Modest Mouse’s most recent studio album, “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.” Their previous offering, “Good News for People Who Love Bad News,” is the most mainstream album so far.
The new EP, “No One’s First and You’re Next,” is a mixture of both. The result is an odd combination of subdued, radio-friendly songs (“Satellite Skin,” “Autumn Beds”) and sporadic music typical of Modest Mouse (“The Whale Song,” “King Rat”).
Oddly, it’s the latter two songs that are the standouts here. “The Whale Song” hearkens back to the old days of Modest Mouse, when six-minute tracks were the norm. The wailing guitar riffs sound as if you are in the depths of the ocean, listening to whale calls. The overlapping singers just add to the immersion.
“King Rat,” on the other hand, is more akin to the single “Dashboard,” with its use of horns and other instruments not normally employed by Modest Mouse. “King Rat” is Brock’s most sporadic and jittery song to date, both lyrically and musically. The first few listens leave you wondering what is happening, and Brock’s singing at first comes off as gimmicky. Eventually it all comes together to make the best song Modest Mouse has created in years.
The other six songs on the album simply fall short. “Satellite Skin” is easily forgettable and, frankly, boring, as is “Guilty Cocker Spaniels.” “Autumn Beds” is not bad, but Brock’s sloppy vocals in the chorus (“We won’t be sleeping in our autumn beds”), are annoying and even cringe-inducing.
“Perpetual Motion Machine” is a throwback to the Big Band era, and “History Sticks to Your Feet” tries to be anthemic but ultimately misses the mark. The EP closer, “I’ve Got It All (Most),” is easily the best of the remaining songs.
The main problem with “No One’s First and You’re Next” isn’t the songs themselves, but how they fit together or, rather, don’t. Unlike Modest Mouse’s previous EPs, this album is simply a collection of songs that don’t flow well together as a good album should. Despite this, it’s still worth checking out.