“I don’t feel, and it feels great,” Modest Mouse frontman, Isaac Brock, shouts early in the 10-minute-long, instrumental-heavy “Trucker’s Atlas,” from 1997’s The Lonesome Crowded West. This concise rallying cry points to the proud cynicism that characterizes much of the band’s music. Lonesome Crowded West was the band’s second full-length album, and the first to garner serious critical attention–Pitchfork gave it a rare perfect score–and provided Modest Mouse with its breakthrough.
Three years later, they released their major-label debut, The Moon & Antarctica, to further critical acclaim. With 2004’s Grammy-nominated Good News for People Who Love Bad News, and 2007’s well-received We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, the band solidified its reputation as one of the most original and consistently strong acts in mainstream alternative rock.
Modest Mouse was first conceived by Isaac Brock, who is the only member with an uninterrupted tenure in the band since its conception. (Founding drummer Jeremiah Green was replaced briefly in 2003 after suffering a nervous breakdown, but has otherwise also lasted the entire two decades; founding bassist Eric Judy left the band in 2011.) Brock grew up in the Pacific Northwest and for a period as a child was introduced into a Christian sect that asked him to speak in tongues; Modest Mouse, perhaps as a consequence, often touches on religious themes. On “3rd Planet,” possibly one of his most complex lyrical compositions, Brock sings, “the third planet is sure that it’s being watched by an eye in the sky that can’t be stopped… when you get to the promised land, you’re gonna shake that eye’s hand.”
But “3rd Planet,” like many of the band’s songs, also maintains Brock’s default defiant-asshole-persona: “I’ve got this thing that I consider my only art: fucking people over,” he declares in the opening verse. The complexity of Modest Mouse comes in its exploration of the subtleties of that persona, as in the mournful “Broke,” in which Brock declares, almost penitently, “Sometimes I’m so full of shit it should be a crime.” And on the same album (Good News for People Who Love Bad News), in which he screams in “Bury Me With It,” “Sure as planets come, I know that they end, and if I’m here when that happens, will you promise me this, my friend? Please, bury me with it! I don’t need none of that Mad Max bullshit,” he also inquires of the eponymous subject of “Bukowski,” “Who would want to be such an asshole?”