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Music / Modest Mouse

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The ocean breathes salty, won't you carry it
In your head, in your mouth, in your soul.
The more we move ahead the more we're stuck in rewind.
Well I don't mind. I don't mind. How the hell could I mind?
— "Ocean Breathes Salty," Good News for People Who Love Bad News.

Modest Mouse is a neo-classical emo folkabilly electro-acoustic hardcore soft pop rock band.

Now let's really talk about them.

Formed in Issaquah, Washington State by Isaac Brock, Jeremiah Green, and Eric Judy. It's named for a story entitled "The Mark on the Wall." It goes:

"I wish I could hit upon a pleasant track of thought, a track indirectly reflecting credit upon myself, for those are the pleasantest thoughts, and very frequent even in the minds of modest, mouse coloured people, who believe genuinely that they dislike to hear their own praises."

And there did it begin: Their legacy of singing about metaphors, so arcanely obtuse that you'd probably need a plum bob, just to get your mind straight after a listen.

Their first album: This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, was praised for its mellow cum harsh acoustic melodies, along with lush instrumentation, and an odd singing style (the latter of which would become the band's staple).


They made Interstate 8 and The Fruit That Ate Itself, before releasing their next full length album, The Lonesome Crowded West, which is universally lauded by critics, but sold modestly at best. Then came Night on the Sun (another EP) and Building Nothing Out of Something, a compilation album. Eventually came their most critically acclaimed album to date: The Moon & Antarctica, a bleak and sometimes scary collection of mostly instrumental melancholies. "Mostly instrumental" stems from the fact, that Brock had had his mouth wired shut after his jaw was broken during recording. To say that their follow up: Sad Sappy Sucker, intended to be their debut album, but was shelved, suffered Hype Backlash is somewhat of an understatement.

Then came Green's nervous breakdown. Afterwards, he decided quit the band to work on their own side project. Now without a main drummer, he enlisted the help of Benjamin Weikel, as well as a new guitarist (Dan Gallucci). And lo and behold was Good News for People Who Love Bad News, which not only proved to be warmly received by the fans and critics (though not as much as ''The Moon & Antarctica") but was a commercial success as well; nearly half a year after its release, the band saw a surprise hit with "Float On," their most optimistic song to date.


More good news followed: Jeremiah Green returned, and Johnny Marr of The Smiths replaced Dan Gallucci on guitar. Riding on their newfound (if still relatively small) popularity, they released We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, conceived as an entirely nautical themed album. It was greeted with critical acclaim and a long hiatus followed.

It took eight years for the band to release a follow-up album, and Strangers to Ourselves saw more changes to the band's lineup. Not only was Marr gone, but co-founder Eric Judy had left as well. Drummer Joe Plummer also left to join Cold War Kids. The album had decent reviews, but nowhere near the level of acclaim their previous output had recieved. Brock claimed that the band would release a follow-up album as soon as legally possible, but as of 2017, it has yet to materialize.

One of the more popular indie bands, they remain diverse and unique in style, outlook, and introspection.


  • Blue Cadet-3, Do You Connect? (EP) (1994)
  • This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About (1996)
  • Interstate 8 (EP) (1996)
  • The Fruit That Ate Itself (EP) (1997)
  • The Lonesome Crowded West (1997)
  • Night on the Sun (EP) (1999)
  • Building Nothing Out of Something (Compilation) (2000)
  • The Moon & Antarctica (2000)
  • Sad Sappy Sucker (2001)
  • Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks (EP) (2001)
  • Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004)
  • Baron von Bullshit Rides Again (EP) (2004)
  • We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007)
  • No One's First and You're Next (EP) (2009)
  • Strangers to Ourselves (2015)

Tropes include:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: "Cowboy Dan".
  • Album Title Drop: Good News for People Who Love Bad News in "Bury Me With It." We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank in "We've Got Everything." Strangers to Ourselves in "The Tortoise and The Tourist."
  • Back to Front: The music video for "Little Motel."
  • Berserk Button: Requesting "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd is a good way to piss off frontman Isaac Brock.
  • Blessed With Suck: Isaac speaks and sings with a noticeable lisp, but this has become one of Modest Mouse's most recognizable, and beloved features.
  • Broken Record:
    "Alright! Already we'll all float on..." "Alright! Already we'll all float on..." "Alright! Already we'll all float on..." "Alright! Already we'll all float on..." "Alright!..."
  • Call-and-Response Song: "Already we'll all float on..." "ALRIGHT!" "Already, we'll all float on..." "ALRIGHT!"
  • Cool Old Guy: Steve Wold, the band's producer, and erstwhile instrumentalist during their early years. In the mid 2000's, Wold would become popular in the United Kingdom, after he released several blues folk albums under the name Seasick Steve.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The lyrics can occasionally devolve into this, especially considering it's snarking at the world itself.
  • Driven to Suicide: It can be argued that the lyrics of "The Ocean Breathes Salty" are sung in anger to someone who had committed suicide. As well, "The Cold Part" could be taken to be about the singer himself committing suicide.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: The lyrics to "Polar Opposites" describe this, which clashes with the rather upbeat sound of the song.
  • Drugs Are Bad: "The Good Times Are Killing Me".
  • Epic Rocking: While their songs can range from standard pop length (about three minutes or so) to six minutes, "Whenever You See Fit" (Modest Mouse's longest song at a little over fourteen minutes), "Trucker's Atlas," "The Stars Are Projectors," "Night on the Sun," and "Spitting Venom" are the most epic.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Done in between "The World at Large" and "Float On" on Good News for People Who Love Bad News.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Night On the Sun."
  • He's Back: For Green in 2007; for the band itself, after a five year hiatus, in 2004.
  • I Am the Band: Isaac Brock was always the driving force behind the band, but he really started fitting this role after Modest Mouse expanded beyond a Rock Trio, and after the departure of mainstay Eric Judy.
  • Lighter and Softer: The Moon & Antarctica is a weird, zig-zagged example. Musically, it's much more subdued than its rambunctious, borderline punk rock predecessor, The Lonesome Crowded West. On the other hand, it also features some of their most dark and depressing lyrics, which is really saying something.
  • Long Title: All of their albums and most of their EPs.
  • Long Song, Short Scene: "3 Inch Horses, Two-Faced Monsters" was a four minute song that was recorded during the sessions for The Moon And Antarctica, but cut down to an unlisted 10 second segue between the songs "A Different City" and "The Cold Part". The full song was featured on Everywhere And His Nasty Parlour Tricks instead.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Wild Pack of Family Dogs," among others. Their songs are usually gentle rock songs with depressed lyrics.
  • Motor Mouth: Brock in '"Steam Engenius" and "Guilty Cocker Spaniels." Holy crap, "Guilty Cocker Spaniels."
    • Also on "3rd Planet" to some extent:
    Well a third had just been made, and we were swimming in the water, didn't know then was it a son, was it a daughter when it occurred to me, that the animals were swimming, around in the water in the oceans, in our bodies, and another had been found, another ocean on the planet, given that our blood is just like the Atlantic, and how.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: All over the place! Their songs can get as low as 2 or 3 and as high as 7 or 8. Sometimes in the same freaking song!
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: They're usually classified as simply "Indie" or "Alternative," though over the years they've experimented with elements of punk, bluegrass, folk, emo, and more.
  • New Sound Album: Good News for People Who Love Bad News.
  • Persecution Flip: The video for "King Rat".
  • Recycled Lyrics: "I don't know, but I been told, you'll never die, and you'll never grow old..."
    • "I'm on the road to God don't know, my brain's the burger and my heart's the charcoal"
    • In "Tundra/Desert" - "I don't feel and that feels fine"; in "Truckers Atlas" - "I don't feel and it feels great"
    • In "Out of Gas" - "Out of gas, Out of road, Out of car, I don't know how I'm going to go" and in "Other People's Lives" - "On the road, Out of road, Going out, Out of gas, Out of road, Out of car"
    • In "White Lies, Yellow Teeth," an outtake from This is a Long Drive - "People talk in soda pop, they talk it quite a lot / The opinions that I don't give are the opinions I don't got." Then, in "Spitting Venom" (recorded 10 years later) - "You were talking soda pop, you were talking quite a lot / The opinions that I do not give, the opinions I ain't got."
      • They do this a lot, don't they?
  • Rock Trio: Pre-Good News For People Who Love Bad News, the core of Modest Mouse consisted of Isaac Brock, Eric Judy, and Jeremiah Green.
  • Shout Out: To Eraserhead in their song Workin' on Leavin' the Livin'.
    • They seem to be very fond of Tom Waits. They reference him in song titles, like "The Lounge (Closing Time)," or musically, like in "This Devil's Workday."
    • Dashboard, makes reference to Planes, Trains and Automobiles with the line "The dashboard melted but we still have the radio."
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Mostly on the cynical side.
  • Something Completely Different: "Pistol" and "Wicked Campaign" from Strangers to Ourselves both sound like nothing else on the album.
  • Song Style Shift: Several times in "March Into the Sea," wherein the style switches between soft rock and abrasive, scream-filled hard rock quite a few times.
    • Happens several times within Spitting Venom, as well as at the end of Parting of the Sensory
  • Steampunk: The song Steam Engenius is from the point of view of a steam automaton.
  • Studio Chatter: "What People are Made Of" begins with someone saying "what's up? Make love?" before the music kicks in.
    • Also at the beginning of "The Good Times are Killing Me," during which the people in the studio were apparently goofing off.
  • Textless Album Cover: The cover to Strangers to Ourselves is a text-free satellite photo of Venture Out RV Resort in Mesa, Arizona.
    • The word "STRANGERS" actually printed on the cover using matte, transparent lettering. If you angle the cover just right you can see the light reflect off the text.
  • The Something Song: "The Whale Song."
  • Turtle Power: "The Tortoise and the Tourist" from Strangers to Ourselves features a section about the titular tortoise offering his ultimate knowledge to a passing man. Unfortunately, the man opts to kill the tortoise for his jewel-covered shell.
  • Vocal Evolution: Not a particularly egregious example, but Isaac began singing in a lower tone of voice on Good News... and further developed this new singing style on We Were Dead...
    • He's also much more nasally on their earliest material.
  • With Lyrics: "Sleepwalking," an adaptation of the Santo & Johnny instrumental "Sleep Walk."
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "Jesus Christ Was An Only Child" is a particularly bizarre example of this.
  • Worth It: In "Float On".
    A fake Jamaican took every last dime with that scam
    It was worth it just to learn some sleight of hand


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