An underwhelming collection of songs
Alex Rigotti
12:54 21st June 2021

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It would be remiss to neglect the gargantuan legacy Modest Mouse have left in their wake. Their sophomore album, The Lonesome Crowded West (1997) helped define the sound of indie rock, and the unexpected success of Good News For People Who Love Bad News (2004) catapulted the band to mainstream popularity. The Golden Casket (2021) is the latest addition to their oeuvre, which they describe as ‘the liminal space between raw punk power and experimental studio science.’ Unfortunately, the album fails to uphold either end, instead presenting an underwhelming collection of songs. 

At first glance, The Golden Casket doesn’t stray too far from frontman Isaac Brock’s central concerns of the fraught conflict between naturalism and technology. The Lonesome Crowded West (1997), for instance, looked at the looming threat of urbanisation upon Brock’s former hometown of Issaquah, Washington. The Golden Casket, however, offers little of the nuance or emotional intensity of previous works. ‘Wooden Soldiers’, for instance, makes a superficial attempt to decry the hypersexualised, ‘hashtagging, photobragging’ surrealism of the Internet, coming to the conclusion that ‘being here is enough for me.’ The album’s centrepiece, ‘Transmitting Receiving’, is a paranoid parataxis of objects undercut by the song’s sluggish tempo. Brock tries too hard to point to something more grandiose with the heavy drumline, which instead hinders the energy of the song. Placing these tracks back-to-back at nearly six minutes each also allays the potential for these tracks to become powerful statements. 

In fact, the pacing on the album is uneven, failing to build any substantial tension to justify the monumental tone of many of its songs, which is especially evident in the first half of the tracklist. The album opens with ‘Fuck Your Acid Trip,’ an agitated recollection of a trip gone horribly wrong. This is followed by ‘We Are Between’; its contemplative attitude towards our position in the world feels abrupt and hollow compared to the preceding track. ‘We’re Lucky’ suffers a similar problem, which features a strange faux French accent waxing lyrical about how grateful we should be ‘to be between.’ There’s not enough conflict in ‘Fuck Your Acid Trip’ to support the indulgent overtones of its successive tracks, and it makes even less sense considering that the album is focused around the frenetic anxieties of ‘Transmitting, Receiving.’

Therein lies the biggest criticism of this album: Modest Mouse doesn’t execute the wild contrasts in tone successfully, often accompanying each track with generic instrumentals that don’t live up to the lo-fi genius of their previous works. ‘Japanese Tree’ reads less as a rebellious youthful escape as a Boomer pandering to a younger audience. The chorus alone features cliché after cliché: ‘You need a place to go/And I have a place to leave/We’ll split the gasoline/And sleep in the backseat.’ Modest Mouse fans will probably enjoy the punky attitude of the track, but it personally doesn’t live up to the carefree legacy of ‘Float On’, their biggest hit. The superficial appeal to nature doesn’t seem to balance out the technological doom Brock seems to feel in a large portion of the album.  

The latter half of the album showcases Brock at his wittiest, most intelligent, and most genuine in two tracks. ‘Lace Your Shoes’ is a touching ode to fatherhood and the internal battle knowing the terrible future juxtaposed with the innocence of your child – the distorted vocals in the background hint cleverly at a creeping notion of unease. ‘Never Fuck A Spider On The Fly’ features some excellent wordplay as Brock connects insects, the internet, and impulsivity in a wonderfully animated song. This is the kind of standard I would have expected given the band’s record to date, much of which was unfortunately lost throughout most of the tracklist. 

Ultimately, the album fails to execute many of the lofty themes that it presents. It can’t decide which direction it wants to go in and doesn’t seem interested in pushing itself into something truly memorable. Modest Mouse fans will probably be satisfied with the sound of the record, but the overall organisation and narrative progression of the album leaves something to be desired. 

The Golden Casket arrives 25 June via Epic Records/Sony. 

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Photo: Press