They may call themselves Modest Mouse and embrace a soul-baring, self-effacing approach to songwriting, but one listen to anything this band has produced will convince you of one thing: These guys are ambitious. This Issaquah, Wash., trio fuses complex, expansive soundscapes with punk urgency; their lyrics alternate between directly confessional diatribes and forays into soft focus introspection creating challenging, thought-provoking music for modern times. There's nothing modest about it.
The Moon & amp; Antarctica represents the band's leap to a major label (after churning out a handful of independent releases). But long-time fans and indie stalwarts with sell-out phobia need not fret. Meandering stylistically with frequent trips into abrupt and unmelodious territory (as on the jarring "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes") the new album is, with one or two exceptions, far from radio-friendly in the conventional sense.
Still, there's something vaguely cold and clinical about it all. And whenever vocalist and tunesmith Isaac Brock loosens his grip on the song's emotional threads, the album unravels. Too often (and this is a criticism I've harbored about the band from the beginning) simple, honest communication is de-prioritized, forced to take a back seat to gimmicky studio tricks and overwrought, super-clever arrangements. At their best (as on "3rd Planet" and "Gravity Rides Everything") Modest Mouse keeps the technical gee-whizziness from overwhelming things, allowing the simple beauty of Brock's furiously neurotic lyricism and the group's flair for inventive melody and texture to take center stage.
Stimulating, self-absorbed and demanding, The Moon & amp; Antarctica manages more hits than misses. Barely.