The beautiful irony of Modest Mouse, of course, is that there is nothing remotely modest or mousy about them. In fact, their first album in four years gives off the distinct aroma of -- for lack of a better way to put it -- hot shit (and especially the smug awareness of said condition). In addition to writing the songs and performing the music, they designed the cover, a self-consciously minimalist composition of poison greens, Pepto-Bismol pinks and ghostly little hummingbird shadows. Their nihilist convictions, summed up in the line "lost the plot," are handily tattooed inside the lyric sheet. But in spite of their cerebral, unapproachable, existential angst, Good News for People Who Love Bad News (Epic) fairly vibrates with the unmistakable energy of a breakout record.
It's not like Modest Mouse -- the post-grunge Seattle band comprised of Isaac Brock, Eric Judy, Dann Gallucci and Benjamin Weikel -- is any stranger to mainstream success. In fact, you've probably heard them piped over the speakers at Starbucks or floating behind the flipping seats of a minivan commercial. Their ethereal, eclectic rhythms, punctuated by Isaac Brock's harsh yawp of a voice, have a way of picking at the outer edges of your consciousness. But with Good News, they're not only poised for such markers of indie-going-mainstream success as their recent positive review on NPR, they also have an infectiously, aggressively strong album.
With the bizarrely selected mix of help from the Flaming Lips, fiddler Tom Peloso, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, Modest Mouse gives free rein to their considerable panoply of weirdness. Brock is the vocal equivalent of the pugilist -- each line is delivered fast and hard and lands precisely where it's intended to. On "Bukowski," "Satin in a Coffin" and especially "Blame It on the Tetons," the band hones garden-variety bitterness into something valuable, unyielding and pure. Maybe it's the violin, maybe it's Brock's banjo, but there's something earthy and reassuring underneath all the melancholy electronic excess. Other songs are actually quite exuberant and joyful, particularly "Float On," which could be the disaffected white kids' answer to Curtis Mayfield's "It's All Right."
I have a feeling that along with the band's newfound mainstream success, Modest Mouse is going to become the band everybody loves to hate (I already have several friends who do). In the meantime, Good News for People Who Love Bad News is unlikely to leave my immediate vicinity anytime soon.