By Max Askari
At Radio 1190, we love spinning our favorite music, new and old. This week, I'll be looking back at an album DJs spin constantly: "The Lonesome Crowded West" by Modest Mouse.
Released in 1997, Modest Mouse's second studio album is a sprawling 74-minute LP that tells tales of road trips, American culture and dissatisfaction with modern life. The songs span from folk to indie to hardcore but are all stylistically linked. Isaac Brock, lead singer and principal songwriter of Modest Mouse, has talked in interviews about how he saw suburban sprawl expand seemingly endlessly throughout his childhood. The endless strip malls sat empty while new ones were being built down the road.
The band spent much of their early time together touring. They played house shows across the American West, hoping the money they would make at one house show would buy them enough gas to make it to the next one. If you've ever taken a long drive anywhere between the Great Plains and the Pacific Ocean, you'll find a familiar mood in this album. The music swells then retreats, just like passing through a city then driving through a long stretch of open road.
Some of my favorites on the album are "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine," "Cowboy Dan" and "Truckers Atlas."
"Teeth Like God's Shoeshine" is a brazen opening track. A quick, distorted guitar riff leads right into Brock's distinctive scream-singing. The song, just like the album, has a seamless flow between aggression and tenderness. Brock's descriptive lyrics about Orange Julius and waiting in long lines at the mall bring back familiar American memories. By the end of the track, the stage is set for the rest of the album and you're off on your Modest Mouse-led trip.
"Cowboy Dan's" eight-note melody gets stuck in my head at least once a week. This haunting tale is based off a man Brock knew only as Cowboy Dan who was a friend of Brock's father. The mysterious drunk who drove a big, run-down truck with a rifle in the back is strong memory Brock associates with his father and his childhood.
"Truckers Atlas" is the most lyrically literal song about driving across America. The writing of the song started with a rolling drumbeat from Modest Mouse's drummer Jeremiah Green. The longest song on the album by far, "Truckers Atlas" has about five minutes of lyrical content, then continues in a sprawling six-minute jam centered on the bass riff. Just like an open road, "Truckers Atlas" goes on and on and on.
I wholeheartedly recommend a full listen of this album. And if you've listened to Radio 1190 enough, you'll recognize many of these songs. When I listen to Radio 1190, my ears perk up when I hear a song from this album, and I hope yours do, too.