The Time Capsule: Modest Mouse 'The Moon and Antarctica'
    • THURSDAY, APRIL 23, 2015

    • Posted by: Josh Ramos

    There isn't a whole lot to do on a thirteen hour flight from Shanghai to Detroit. I could have watched last year's blockbuster films that were commercially successful yet critically panned, but that can get boring after three straight films with seventeen car chases between the three of them. I tried to watch the serious, Oscar nominated films that came up short, but those were only interesting enough to pique my interest...not keep my attention. I considered getting incredibly drunk and talking to the stranger next to me about some philosophical concept I picked up in a freshmen year intro course, but then we both would have had to live with that agonizing, torturous memory [Ed. note: you never want to be that guy]. Instead, I chose to listen to the seminal record from one of the great American bands who also happen to have frequently written songs about traveling so far from home you forget where you came from. I turned back the clock and listened to 2000's The Moon & Antarctica by Modest Mouse.

    My obsession with Modest Mouse is a story on it's own. After abandoning the pop-punk trend of the early/mid-2000's as my heroes blink-182 decided to go on an "indefinite hiatus", I found myself entranced by "Float On" which was all over the radio and in every single TV commercial in 2004. The inescapable hit was a perfect mix of rock, pop, and blissful glee. Still...I just knew the song. Not the band. I was too young and enamored with the new 50 Cent album to care about anything else. Years went by and I never thought of "Float On" again. Then it came roaring back in classic retro fashion. The 2010 jam "The Show Goes On" by Lupe Fiasco sampled the song and brought my attention back to Modest Mouse who were apparently recording an album (which finally saw release this year).

    Having become a genuine music enthusiast by this point, I decided to check out their stuff. Unlike most wannabe hipsters (I was in high school), I didn't want to just check out their highest reviewed work on Pitchfork. I like to start at the beginning of a band's discography and work my way up from there. This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About was impossibly strange yet still entertaining. The Lonesome Crowded West was magnificent yet claustrophobic. By the time I arrived at The Moon & Antarctica, I knew I needed a little space to breathe. As the opening chords of "3rd Planet" warmly greeted me, it was clear I was in for something special.

    The Moon & Antarctica became my obsession. The mysterious title alone was enough to lure me in. Named after two places I doubt I will ever visit, the album still managed to bring familiar vibes. The lyrical concepts of change, failure and hope have been done, but on this album, frontman Isaac Brock tapped into something inexplicably beautiful. His use of acoustic guitars on the album should be noted. The warm textures make for a relaxing listen that could soundtrack any journey -- from a walk, drive, or workout run needed to distract the mind. Brock's inability to sing for most of the recording of the album due to a street fight he was in puts an emphasis on the instrumentation. It's because of this that masterpieces like "The Stars Are Projectors" and "Life Like Weeds" are even possible.

    When Brock does sing, however, he is definitely out to prove a point. Filled with emotional intensity and passion, Brock's vocals are masterfully recorded. With layers on layers, the singularity of his harmonies are instantly catchy. I doubt any other Modest Mouse album has the ability to be so perfectly memorable. Even better, Brock manages to say things of importance. I have no issue saying that Brock is probably a top two lyricist in the rock and roll business (no one is touching Thom Yorke of Radiohead) [Ed. note: Those are strong words].

    If you sit and read the lyrics to "Gravity Rides Everything," you realize that Brock essentially just wrote a scientific poem about the effects of gravitational pull on the human body and the world around us. His attention to detail is immaculate. By focusing on something that is always around us that we never think to question, you can see what Brock is trying to do with this album. For the first time in my life, I was listening to an album that felt like the lyricist wasn't solely focusing on something that happened to him that I could relate to. Instead, Brock was writing about what happens to people in general.

    It's no easy task to write a record that captures human nature and the frailty of the human condition. Isaac Brock made it look easy. The Moon & Antarctica is such an easy light listen, a stark contrast from past Modest Mouse albums. It is inviting and relaxing, despite the dark concepts that float around the record. This album changed my life and opened up a world of music that I never knew existed. Discovering albums like In the Aeroplane over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel or bands like Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie, and Elliot Smith certainly ended my pure obsession with only rap and punk music. Modest Mouse changed my palette as a music lover, but The Moon & Antarctica changed my idea of what music can do to someone.

    After spinning the album three times in a row on the flight, I moved onto the newest record, Strangers to Ourselves, as well as We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. The albums are brilliant with equally poetic phrasing, but they'll never hit with as much magic as The Moon & Antarctica. Their mysterious allure isn't as strong. Maybe the lyrics don't make me reflect as much or the music doesn't completely wash away all negative energy. I've been listening to the album strictly on occasions when I know I can listen from start to finish. It's deserving and rewarding enough. There isn't a wrong time to listen to this masterpiece, but there is certainly a perfect time. Next time you've got a long way to go and a big road ahead of you, give The Moon & Antarctica a spin. I guarantee you'll be amazed at what you find out about yourself.

    Listen to "Lives" off the album below which will make you regret every decision you have ever made in your life. Seriously.

    And, be sure to check out the schedule for the upcoming Time Capsule entries in the weeks ahead so you can listen to the records yourself and take part in our remembrances.

    4/30 - The Velvet Underground & Nico by The Velvet Underground & Nico - Camille Fantasia
    5/7 - Since I Left You by the Avalanches - Don Saas
    5/14 - Energy by Operation Ivy - Jason Greenspan
    5/21 - The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me by Brand New - Don Saas

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