Modest Mouse Push Its DIY Limits On Crest Filled ‘The Golden Casket’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Back in 2014, Modest Mouse recorded another album’s worth of songs at the same time as the sessions for Strangers To Ourselves. Though three songs were released as singles, the rest never saw the light of day — some are finished while others are still works in progress. Now eight years later, there is finally a new Modest Mouse album, but not that one. Still no collaboration with Krist Novoselic — which has been teased since 2016. 

Instead, The Golden Casket is an entirely new album of Modest Mouse doing Modest Mousey things. The off-kilter rhythms are here, joined by atypical instruments, odd subject matter, and compositions that tread the line between brilliant and messy. Though Isaac Brock’s singing is a bit more subdued than in recent albums, he still goes into his chaotic styles — rap-singing, bellowing, repeating phrases, and generally seeming to have little control over what comes out of his mouth. 

In “We Are Between,” Brock sings of flawed mankind being able to meet lowered expectations.  “We are mirrors of our own faults,” he sings over a bouncing baseline and Russell Higbee’s funky muted guitar lick. But it could be worse. “Somewhere between dust and the stars, swung open then slammed shut, yeah, but here we are.”

The infinitely catchy “Walking and Running” is built around a minimalist staccato baseline played on upright bass by Tom Peloso. As the song progresses, a droning synthesizer, loud guitar, and thumbing bass join the mix, building in intensity. The tempo kicks into overdrive and Brock’s vocals go from calm to his barely controlled frenetic delivery.     

Though The Golden Casket has some soft moments, like the ballad “Lace Your Shoes,” Modest Mouse is at its best when pushing its limits. “Wooden Soldiers” is a highlight, with its plodding, ominous beat and Brock’s rhythmic chanting that swerves between soft and angry. Brock sings of trying to make the best of a situation as the world collapses around him, “making plans in the sands as the tides roll in.” But in the end, he comes to a place of acceptance. “You just being here being you is enough for me,” he sings. 

Among the warm marimba and the gritty hip-hop groove, “The Sun Hasn’t Left” is a call for optimism, a reminder that as bad as everything is, the world hasn’t ended. “There’s still something left. Despite the endless crush of crests, well, there’s still something else,” Brock sings.

Whether Brock and company will eventually finish and release the second album from 2014 is a mystery, but the album they did finish is a worthy follow-up to Strangers To Ourselves. Though more controlled than the band has been of late, The Golden Casket still has its share of outlandish moments. From its amalgamation of influences to its raucous rhythms to its bizarre lyrics, there is plenty of Modest Mouse to go around.

Photo by James Joiner

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