“Strangers to Ourselves,” Modest Mouse’s first full-length album in eight years, is neither a colossal misstep nor as good as the band’s revered, mid-1990s indie classics such as “Lonesome Crowded West” and “This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About.”
The wiry guitar is still there and so is Isaac Brock’s carnival bark. But they’re hidden under the same pop gloss heard in 2007’s “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.”
While the album does have some great, inspired stuff, its 15 songs don’t really push the indie movement forward. Mostly, it showcases the band’s sturdiness, despite the loss of longtime bassist Eric Judy and the long gap between releases.
Gone are the days of the band bringing indie music’s footprint into mainstream consciousness. (There is no denying that 2004’s “Float On” built a template for indie bands to make it big; now they just settle in at the top.)
The best songs on “Strangers” mix classic Modest Mouse elements. The poppy lead single “Lampshades on Fire” has a wonderful, buoyant vocal propped up by a sharp baseline and messy guitar work. “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box” is a raucous fun time with blaring horns and a pounding rhythm section. It’s a mix of 2000’s “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” and 2007’s “Dashboard.”
“Pistol” – the worst tune ever from Modest Mouse – almost bogs the whole thing down. Propelled by compressed drums and a tuned-down Brock vocal, it’s a mess. The lyrics, which sadly use a pistol as a metaphor for male genitalia, are embarrassing.
Luckily, the album quickly transitions to the quiet and folky “Ansel,” which plays off personal themes in “Long Drive.”
Other highlights include the dark and self-deflating “The Tortoise and the Tourist” and the “Crowded West” throwback “The Best Room,” which was inspired by a UFO sighting.
It’s nice that, after nearly a decade, the band hasn’t lost its off-kilter perspective. It may not be releasing material as good as 2000’s Epic-debut masterpiece “The Moon and Antarctica” – but it doesn’t need to.