REVIEW: Modest Mouse - No One’s First and You’re Next

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Chris M. Johnson

Since the beginning of this summer, Modest Mouse have given us the pleasure of hearing some b-sides from Good News for People Who Love Bad News and We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. By increments of 2, the band slowly released songs (some long lost, others that could be found as b-sides to singles) that provided a great soundtrack to the season itself, while also throwing a bone to the fans waiting over two years for a proper release. The songs were collected and released, billed as an EP. Eight songs for the price of an EP? I’ll take it... and you should too.

If for no other reason, pick this up to hear the evolution of the band’s sound and tonality. With Good News for People Who Love Bad News Isaac Brock found the formula for making a great, weird-ass pop record. While stepping away from the noodley guitars a bit, Brock still maintained a great sense when it comes to super-quirky lyricism and addictive riffs. Nothing on No One’s First showcases this more than “I’ve Got It All (Most)”, the EP’s final cut. As if to high-five the fans pre-Good News for People Who Love Bad News, the band provides a track that could have easily rounded out the original album (if “The Good Times Are Killing Me” weren’t so damn good). “I’ve Got It All (Most)” gives us a great view of the not-so-recent past, but where the EP succeeds is with it’s throw-away tracks from We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.

It’s this reviewer’s opinion that We Were Dead is a shamefully underrated record [yes… it did get great reviews across the board. But it’s almost treated as that hot cousin (Good News in this metaphor) from your family reunion that comes back in a year with a fresh 20 pounds. Immediately, he/she seems less attractive. However they remain beautiful, but only on the inside. This fact is hard to perceive while watching he/she shovel fried chicken and potato salad into his/her fat face. You’ve been there… right?]. The album’s only downfall, at least in comparison to Good News, is its ability to flow between songs to make a cohesive collection. Don’t forget though… the songs on We Were Dead are all fantastic. No One’s First opens with “Satellite Skin”, a song that could have easily replaced “Missed the Boat” as their previous album’s token radio-pop song. Here we have a song that features nothing but narrative, with no real intelligible chorus, but because it’s Modest Mouse… it. just. works.

Same with the EP’s two standout tracks “Perpetual Motion Machine” and “King Rat”. With the former, we’re reintroduced to the Dirty Dozen Brass Brand who made quite a presentation on Good News with “The Devil’s Workday” (so good even, they introduce the album as well). With a minimal guitar riff and nearly hidden percussion (stomps and claps mostly). Brock allows the Dirty Dozen to take over the melody while he spills clever and irony all over it. “King Rat” we’ve seen already due to the popular news of the late Heath Ledger’s haunting music video. This track also takes hold of the collection as its standout track. The Dirty Dozen clearly come back on “King Rat” (though not credited) to counterpoint Brock’s direction, providing melody to the vocalists smoky “Blah lah da da” vocalized breakdown between the track’s numerous tempo changes and breakdowns. He ends the song with a demonizing “What do you have to say for yourself!”. I’m not trying to compare that to anything about the current state of political affairs or other worldly problems… it just sounds really fucking cool.

The thing I like most about this collection is that it’s not just for fans. The tracks are so varied in style that there’s something for everyone on No One’s First and You’re Last. Hardcore fans will be pleased with songs like “King Rat” and “The Whale Song”, both of which make strong usage of intricate melodies and Modest Mouse’s signature guitar tone (think The Moon and Antarctica). Tracks such as “Satellite Skin” and “Guilty Cocker Spaniels” give us the toe-tapping, summer jam-esque vibes that they’ve previously given us with We Were Dead’s “Fire It Up”. It’s just fantastic, supremely good music for this season in our lives, delivered the way that Modest Mouse always seems to speak to us in the sweltering heat or the deathly cold. This is their way of saying “Hey loyal/new fan. We haven’t done a whole hell of a lot, so here are some old songs to get through the year. We know you need it.” We do… I know I do. Go fulfill your curiosity.

If you need a taste of the EP (and haven’t already seen this) check out the “King Rat” video:


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