August 4, 2009

released and relegated

How some artists can be so prolific I'll never know. Last year, England's Wild Beasts released their debut, Limbo, Panto, which I had the priviledge of reviewing for Stylus (and quickly added to my list of 2008's best). I quickly grew attached to the verbose idiosyncrasies of Hayden Thorpe's lyrics, not to mention the strange, carnivalesque quality of the band's sound. Not a year later, the same band has released their follow-up (no word yet when it will hit North America), Two Dancers, which already boasts a video for its lead single, "Hooting and Howling." Judging from the first review I've read, courtesy of The Quietus, Wild Beasts have no problem with consistency and could (should) find a place beside more complex, (and recently) well-lauded North American acts like the Dirty Projectors and Sunset Rubdown.

Another album released today produces the opposite effect in my gut. Modest Mouse were witho
ut a doubt one of the most important bands of my adolescence. I think it's also safe to say that The Lonesome Crowded West and The Moon and Antarctica are two of the best -and perhaps the most vital- albums of the last 15 years. They are sonically and lyrically complex, darkly original and suprisingly poignant, both for their cultural commentary and their philosophical outlook. So it's with a whole heap of dread that I turn to the current manifestation of Modest Mouse. 2003's Good News For People Who Love Bad News was definitely not a bad album, but it represented a shift for the band (in terms of popularity, production, content, and Brock's new sobreity). This shift was fully realized with 2007's We Were Dead..., an unforgiveably bad album that, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get behind. Was Johnny Marr really necessary? I guess when the songs can't stand on their own, you need some way to dress them up. Anyway, the point of all this is to give some context for the band's new EP, No One's First And You're Last, which I can't help but see as Modest Mouse's tombstone (don't get the wrong idea -I'm sure there'll be more of them). The EP collects leftover material from the band's last two albums -which means even more poor wordplay, more overdone guitarwork, and a bunch of half-baked songs ("Satellite Skin," "Autumn Beds," and "Whale Song" are examples of the band at its most creatively tapped). "I've Got it All (Most)" al(most) tunes into the Modest Mouse I remember, while the bloated "King Rat" sounds as though it came from the Good News... era, and for that reason alone soars above the rest of this EP. And yes, the video is directed by the late Heath Ledger. Too bad it's not very good.

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