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“I Came as a CD Rat: Saying Happy 20th to The Moon & Antarctica.”


Modest Mouse fans across the world are probably divided about evenly between those who stare crosseyed at this album title like it’s a list of ingredients in Nutella and those for whom it needs no introduction. And along the lines of it needing no preamble, I find it equally refreshing that they’re not “reissuing” or “remastering” it, at all, from what I’ve seen. I mean, is it just me or does altering or changing an album not seem like the best way to actually celebrate it? Nirvana’s Bleach, especially, needed a remixing like a hole in the head on its 20th anniversary in 2009.

The same is undoubtedly true for The Moon & Antarctica, no matter of Isaac Brock’s purported qualms and subsequent measures to offer a smoother reincarnation of the album’s production in 2004 with cleaner production and muffled vocals. I think it’s a case of self-consciousness on the part of the artist, like Frank Zappa’s phenomenon of “making the water turn black,” a procedure mentioned in one of his songs that’s symbolic for covering up your own unique idiosyncrasies and defining characteristics, as an attempt toward fitting in or blending in, instead of celebrating them. Now, gratifyingly, we have some closure in the wake of this thorny fiasco as both the 10-year edition and the prevalent versions on Spotify seem to furnish the original mix and artwork, hence essentially defeating that ephemeral 2004 remix that tried to clean up the sound [2].

And without question, Isaac Brock’s personal eccentricities are a lot of what makes the album go. It’s an LP that owes a significant amount of its meaning to the singer’s lyrics, obtuse, bizarre and funny observations like “The third planet is sure that they’re being watched / By an eye in the sky that can’t be stopped / When you get to the promised land / You’re gonna shake the eye’s hand” and “The universe is shaped exactly like the earth / If you go straight long enough you end up where you were” [1]. In fact, the cosmological framework established on the first track provides a lot of the platform for the rest of the LP: these existential, big-picture musings make it all the more astonishing when on “Gravity Rides Everything,” Isaac Brock makes a turn toward the intimate and immediate, where despite the fact of the title alluding to a natural force, the whole of the action seems to take place in one nondescript motel room and in the mind of one individual going through some addled insomnia. In this way, The Moon & Antarctica is an album designed to be experienced in its entirety (with their next effort obviously more “singles”-oriented proviso of “Float on”; “Ocean Breathes Salty” et. al.).

So the 20th birthday of this specimen in musical anatomy has rolled around and lo and behold, there’s no “Modest Mouse Mania” taking place in the streets or official “Modest Mouse Day” holiday initiated like there was for The Clash, but the talking points abound, nonetheless. One of these topics should without question be the producer, Brian Deck, formerly of the band Red Red Meat based in Chicago. Short of getting into the exact techniques of recording that make this music better than it would be otherwise, it’s important just to note that the final product, as I mention earlier, embodies an alluring spectrum of the lyricist’s mental inclinations and pumps out of the speakers as an LP that breathes and flows, and even tugs at your heart a little bit.

For instance, there’s the hilariously weird acoustic folk interlude “Wild Packs of Family Dogs,” which offers an inlet from bulbous, textural psychedelia to inform us that a group of murderous dogs are scheduled for a visit to Heaven upon the death of Brock himself: “Right after I die / The dogs start floating up toward the glowing sky”. You could probably film a sequel to Dead Poets Society gleaning for the screenplay solely from the words on The Moon & Antarctica.

Anyway, my personal take on the album is that, well for one, I was lucky to make the cut of being a “cool” Modest Mouse fan in that I picked up this sucker on CD three months before Good News for People Who Love Bad News came out, which is also three months before the ephemeral remix, hence allowing me to imbibe the raw original as my first impression of the band. I got the original CD out on Epic and I must not have gotten the memo from Henry Rollins that “Digital music isn’t music” or whatever, because it immediately became one of my favorite albums of all time and a harvesting mainstay of my everyday life. It’s one of those albums that’s a masterpiece for its tendency to shed influence, indeed similar to an obstinately potent and cataclysmic celestial body whose own essence is powerful enough as to assume, and wallow in its own sovereignty.

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[1] I remember Brent Dicrescenzo of Pitchfork making the comment of the latter lyrics in his original review of The Moon & Antarctica that “Those still not convinced of Isaac Brock’s genius should consult the music section in Target,” or something along those lines.

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[2] I personally found that remix loathsome too, a huge fan of the original’s distinct, live and organic sounds.

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