Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Roboseyo's Bliss-Out Of The Week: Modest Mouse

'seyo likes fire.
and cozy pubs in Daehangno.

OK, so I've been listening to a lot of really cool music lately:

One friend put me onto Spiritualized, another recommended Space Hog's Chinese Album, and yet another got me onto a group called Nouvelle Vague, which will probably be the subject of a post of its own.

Anyway, your bliss-out of the day is from Modest Mouse's first album: before they started broadening their appeal (though I personally still think they sound great, even as the snobs declare them sell-outs -- indie music has been so completely co-opted by now, and the internet spreads word so quickly, that the idea of selling out doesn't mean much anymore anyway, and if you've even heard of a band at all, chances are you'll hear them on an i-pod ad next week, because (damn them) the guys who choose music for commercials have pretty bloody great taste in music...so much so that I used to laugh at the way the commercials' music upstaged the quality of the music in the videos on MTV.

Back on target: I used to be fond of saying that if you took an ordinary rock band, and stuck them in a pencil sharpener, the result would be Modest Mouse. Their first few albums and LPs especially, and even now, a few tracks per album, have a ragged intensity that will drag you along. The style isn't for everyone: the vocals can be rough-hewn, and the lead singer manages to wail and bark through some of the songs, though the lyrics are durn worthwhile if you listen to some of them. Their debut, "This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing To Think About" is loaded and laced with clever and inventive musical moments and turns of phrase. Listen to the first forty seconds of this track for just one example of how they build momentum. Well, the entire last third of the album, also builds momentum, along a thirty-minute arc, of fast-song/slow-song alternations, increasing in intensity, to this, the final bliss-out on the album there's one more track: a kind of coda, but this song is the climax to which the whole things builds, this is what all the other wail-outs, bliss-downs and stomp-drives have led up to, and dear readers, it is worthy. This is one of the best songs I know to listen loud: in fact, this whole album is probably best listened to in the car, out on the open road.

The way it builds in the first half, starting very slow, and then gaining speed before the screeching bliss-out at the end, flipping between sounding like a siren or a kid squeaking two balloons together, to the mechanical birds of the track title soaring in wild patterns, the song only makes sense really loud, and played loud, it never fails.

(the video is from the fireworks festival in Andong)


The song is also a textbook example of the way a bliss-out needs, NEEDS a build-up. Not always a long one: U2's Beautiful Day only spends about a minute leading up to the bliss-out chorus, but a dynamic shift really helps startle the listener into that other place the band is reaching for. Now really, this bliss-out starts six songs earlier, as the album gains momentum during the last half, with most of the best songs coming during the lead up. Then, on this track, too, the band builds for about half the song, before it finally leaps into bliss-out territory, and then in the last thirty seconds or so, it even has the courtesy to slow down a bit and ease us out of the bliss zone. If you don't enjoy the sounds, that's OK, but you can at least appreciate the mechanics of the song dynamics, can't you? I love Modest Mouse, partly for that. I'm a sucker for dynamics. I'm not that sophisticated a music listener, but a good shift in tone or tempo keeps me listening.

Don't like it? That's OK. I know Modest Mouse ain't for everybody. But don't write it off until you've listened to it as loud as you can, and preferably in a situation where you can experience some kind of motion (walking on a sidewalk, doing yoga, driving) -- that might help.

Meanwhile, I took these fun pictures at ATEK's book release party for their extremely useful English Teacher's Guide to Korea, and while there, we noticed that Tony's jacket coincidentally matched the bench on which he sat.

We almost lost him a few times. Fortunately, his voice carries.

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