Strangers to Ourselves is Modest Mouse’s best album since Lonesome Crowded West. I love The Moon and Antarctica as much as the next mega-fan, but there are just more standout tracks from beginning to end on this latest effort. “The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box,” “Pups To Dust,” and “Be Brave” are as strong of a threesome of tracks that Isaac Brock has ever released on a single LP. Bookended by the somber and beautiful intro “Strangers to Ourselves” and haunting closer “Of Course We Know,” there are clear themes being explored and a sense of cohesion in ideas that may have lacked on previous releases. Throw in the immensely addicting “Lampshades on Fire” and wickedly engrossing “Sugar Boats,” and there is little to no filler. “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)” and “Wicked Campaign” are completely out of left field, but it’s encouraging to know that Isaac is still willing to experiment. There are no skippable tracks on the record. Of course, there is also some sense of disconnect between the songs, a likely result of various recording sessions over the past 7-8 years.
Brock’s always been my favorite lyricist, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint on Strangers. His legendary reputation as a lyrical wordsmith remains intact, with relentless allusions and allegories. “The family living upstairs must have a fleet of rider lawnmowers” (from “The Best Room”) may be a Brockism for obesity, but it’s the obscurity of it all that’s so much damn fun. Isaac employs a surprisingly restrained and clever vocal melody in the very Talking Heads-esque “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box,” probably my favorite track on the record. “Pups To Dust” features Brock’s old school guitar hooks and non-yelling delivery and should put to rest ongoing complaints that the band upended their approach and style. “Be Brave” is a raucous and uninhibited romp, featuring Brock in top form with softer vocals juxtaposed against Isaac’s unrestrained angst. My expectations for the first full-length Modest Mouse release since 2007 were sky high, and those expectations were obliterated. Let’s just hope Isaac is able to find a live band that can keep up.