Modest Mouse emerged more than two decades ago from Issaquah, Washington, the place where Seattle’s creeping suburbs crash up against the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and — at least at the time — the demilitarized zone between rural Washington and the Emerald City’s bedroom communities.
Frontman Isaac Brock embraced the straddle, coming off in the early days as a bit of Cosmopolitan White Trash thinker. The band’s early EPs and albums sound like the work of a trailer park philosopher watching the urbanites invade from a dusty window with a six-pack of Rainier and compendium of Nietzsche.
Since he detailed the struggles of sprawl and space alike on albums like 1996’s This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About and 1997’s The Lonesome Crowded West, almost everything about the band has changed, save Brock’s trademark bark and penchant for lines that sound profound even after you write them down.
Moving from tales of angry cowboys and feral dogs to songs about urban isolation and climate change — and leaving behind the wheezy cacophony of their early records for slick production and the shimmering guitar of Johnny Marr — lost them one generation of fans while giving them access to a much larger crop of new ones. That’s why if you ask seven music fans to name their favorite of Modest Mouse’s seven studio albums, you’ll likely get seven different answers.
As such, trying to create a definitive ranking of Modest Mouse’s work is a bit ineffectual. But given that Brock is a scholar in that sort of futility — the sort of man who stands astride the road to the newest subdivision and yells “Stop!” — we think he’d appreciate our efforts either way.