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“Dolby’s Rupees: Modest Mouse – ‘You’re the Good Things’”

My first impression of Modest Mouse, upon getting the Moon & Antarctica CD in 2004 (three months before I first heard “Float on,” amazingly), was like, man, this stuff is just BIG. It wasn’t like the music was really loud, fast, urgent or intense in any superficial sort of way, though. My initial take on it was just that this guy has a lot to say and the stuff he’s saying carries potent, magnanimous meaning for him.

It was in the way the opener “3rd Planet” meandered about, in phrasing aimlessness, in that gentle, spare acoustic guitar that seemed to bespeak an invitation to listen closely. Sure enough, on this very track, they get about as big-picture as you can get: “The universe is shaped / Exactly like the Earth / If you go straight long enough / You’ll end up where you were” [1] [2]. 

And it gets back to my point about The Golden Casket: it’s pretty amusing and forceful but is it really necessary? The opening song “Fu** Your Acid Trip,” while pretty eclectic and trippy, by and large, strikes me as the sort of “stupid human trick” [3] of attempting to generate inspiration, by way of unnecessary, contrived malady, where said inspiration wasn’t there before.

And of course, I probably wouldn’t wish it on any enemy, but the typical Modest Mouse blueprint, on their songs, when they worked, was to take an examination of their surroundings, through lyrics, which produced a conclusion, or vantage point, so large, so definite and so cosmological, that the importance of the music is obviated. You would never think to call into question of, say, “Gravity Rides Everything,” which gets by with very little lyrical fanfare, let alone “The Cold Part,” which stands in awe of the vast expanse of Antarctica, or “Wild Packs of Family Dogs,” a twisted, burlesque tale of Brock’s sister getting mauled to death by neighborhood canines [4].

Similarly does “You’re the Good Things” masquerade, the ostensible centerpiece on the band’s brief but crisp 2001 EP Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour [5] Tricks. “You’re the Good Things” is an uncanny satire, ageless wisdom breathed with tongue cemented in proverbial “cheek,” the type of thing that would send the average upwardly mobile millennial circa 2015 into a homicidal rage of indignation and overly earnest confusion. Throughout the song, its primary discourse is composed of ironically rendered messages. The phrase “you’re the good things” is repeated, copiously, each time accompanied by an anecdote beholden to undeniably frustrating or problematic aspects. As such is “You’re the good things… You’re the flowers in my house when my allergies come out… You’re the loud sound of fun when I’m trying to sleep… You’re the large sum of cash in my sinking life raft”. Obviously, the overall phenomenological interface of this song does justice to what I mention before as the overwhelming penchant within Modest Mouse of rendering things as big-picture, or final, if you were, in this case such conclusion manifesting as the inextricable connection of satisfaction and hazard in life.

With “You’re the Good Things,” as well, however, we’re dealing with an especial case, within Modest Mouse’s catalogue, of structure. Particularly what I’m referring to is the portion comprising the song’s final minute-and-a-half. At this point, the band is chugging away on a midtempo, Badfinger-like groove, pretty unassuming, but they start to speed up and eventually they enter this segment of brisk, kinetic rocking, marking one of the few tempo changes to be found in any Modest Mouse song (not to say there completely aren’t any other ones). Another commendable and gratifying thing about this latter phase of “You’re the Good Things” is that it likewise institutes a key change, relatively speaking: actually, hauntingly, the latter part doesn’t really seem to be IN a key, in any regard. It’s like the music got sucked up through this vacuum of celestial ordeal, through brisk groove, as Brock sings “And the help’s not short / When you’re digging your grave now / And the help’s not short / Sure sure I’ll help you dig it”. All in all, the proceedings collapse on this twisted, dissonant and even nonsensical guitar riff from Isaac Brock, a run that he somehow sonically made to sound just like a Moog synth (the likes of which can be heard toward the end of “The Stars are Projectors,” the band’s most important foray into explicity psychedelia), laying waste to the listener’s world and unfurling a crushing paradigm of dystopian destruction, even in a sense belikening to the Psycho or Jaws theme music. “You’re the Good Things” is a love song about the impossibility of love: it’s the rhythmic, discursive and relentless snapshot of reality of humans as imbibed by Isaac Brock, the vocalist, issued rife as rife with universal likeability and playability as it is with confounding and exhausting anthropological themes. 

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[1] I’ll always remember the comment from Pitchfork’s Brent Dicrescenzo on this set of lyrics in his original The Moon & Antarctica review. And I approximate: “Anybody still not convinced of Modest Mouse’s genius should immediately consult the Wal-Mart music section.

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[2] Kindly withhold any Blair Witch Project references, if you will.

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[3] “Stupid Human Tricks” was a feature on The Late Show with David Letterman, in the 1990s, furnishing various instances of people doing stupid things for sheer entertainment purposes.

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[4] For your indulgent fill of noir humor look no further than Brock’s curious admission of “Right after I die / The dogs start floating toward the glowing sky”. 

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[5] I’m not sure why the band, similarly to the Foo Fighters on The Colour and the Shape, choose to employ the British “-our” ending instead of the American “-or” permutation. There is a certain style to it, I guess. 

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