This B-sides, singles and rarities collection was never intended to form a cohesive album. That said, it contains some of the best songs released during Modest Mouse's (thankfully still progressing) lifespan.
The album starts off with "Never Ending Math Equation," a quintessential Modest Mouse song that would serve excellently as an introduction to the band. The guitar, in particular, grabs the listener's attention; Isaac Brock has always been a master of combining the unstructured with the melodic, and it shows here. The lyrics are also classic Mouse: "I'm the same as I was when I was six years old / And oh my God I feel so damn old / I don't really feel anything / On a plane, I can see the tiny lights below / And oh my God, they look so alone / Do they really feel anything?"
The next two songs, "Interstate 8" and "Broke," follow a similar structure: They start off slow and depressed and speed up to a guitar-heavy finish. This formula was on display on both This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About and The Lonesome Crowded West, so these songs should feel well-worn to a fan of early Mouse. "Broke," in particular, is damn moving.
The next song, "Medication" is divided into three parts. The first is a collage of city and nature sounds, overlaid with a slow, reverb-heavy guitar line. The whole section is a bit nerve-wracking, which is appropriate given the lyrical content. The song starts with the line, "This is the part of me that needs medication," and continues on that disturbed-sounding path until the next section comes in. This section recalls the two poppiest songs on Moon & Antarctica--"Paper Thin Walls" and "Gravity Rides Everything"---with its acoustic guitar and upbeat vocals (which are matched, in true Brock fashion, by lyrics that still express bewilderment and displacement). The third section is sonically the same as the first, though the lyrics stray from the pattern established in the first. Though "Medication" is Modest Mouse's most listenable track, it's certainly adventurous and makes for an interesting listen.
"Workin' on Leavin' the Livin'" is the next gem on this collection of, well, gems. Centered around the line "in heaven, everything's all right," this is a sprawling, extremely memorable song. Memorable as well (though for different reasons) is the next track, "All Night Diner." This one's a bit humorous, very catchy, and more consistently upbeat than any of the songs that precede it.
"Baby Blue Sedan" is a far cry from "All Night Diner," and returns to the melancholy that defines most of this collection. The first line of the chorus is "It's hard to be a human being," the song is in 3/4, and Brock sounds like he's genuinely struggling to get through each verse. It's a great depression waltz (if that's not a term, it should be).
"A Life of Arctic Sounds," the next track, sounds like it could have fit right in the middle of the track listing of This Is a Long Drive. It has lyrics about driving, building drums and some of Brock's more abrasive screams (though this one's still no "Shit Luck"). It's not as raw-sounding as most of This Is a Long Drive, but it's still a good listen.
The next track, "Sleepwalkin'" is another slow song in 3/4, but this one's not such a downer. It's a duet of sorts between Brock and a female vocalist, which adds more of a romantic feel to the song's already sappy (I mean this in a good way) lyrics. "Sleepwalkin'" feels nostalgic, even for a Mouse song, due in large part to its "Hallelujah"-esque guitar line.
"Grey Ice Water" also features a female vocalist, though in a much less prominent role. This is a standard Modest Mouse tune about distance, loneliness, cold, taking the path of least resistance...you get the idea. It brings all these ideas together in some compellingly specific lyrics--they tell a clear story, and in that respect are actually somewhat reminiscent of the band's later work.
The second to last song, "Whenever You Breathe Out, I Breathe In (Positive Negative)" is the only song of this collection that I can't really get into. It takes a while to get started, and while the lyrics are as depressing as Brock's get, it doesn't inspire the same intensity of feeling (for me) that "Broke," the song on the record to which it's most similar, does. The last minute-and-a-half or so still feature some great moments in distorted guitar, and the song definitely ends on a better note than it begins on.
The last track, "Other People's Lives" has some of my favorite lyrics in Modest Mouse's entire corpus, including the choice line, "He'd been in the Army and he did some speed / He went down to Thailand and he did the deed, oh yeah / He did it for the boys." The track is another sprawler, clocking in at over seven minutes. There's definitely some serious noodling going on, but the continued presence of Brock's vocals (sometimes several layers of them at a time) keeps the song from overstaying its welcome.
This is a must-own for Modest Mouse fans. It also serves as an excellent introduction to their sound up until The Moon & Antarctica and is worth picking up solely on its own merit.
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