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I'm enjoying a nice nostalgic start to a long day's reviewing with this newly-reissued Modest Mouse gem. Their third album proper, this was the one where they really started polishing their rough and visceral countrified indie rock into the more refined and measured alt-pop that's earned them the household name status they enjoy today...I kind of see it as the one where they stopped trying to look like they weren't trying.
I recall when this album came out I was a bit disappointed by the softening of their harsher edges, but with hindsight they were simply moving from one good thing to another. Tracks like 'Paper Thin Walls' and 'Alone Down There' tether a barely restrainable venom with clinical studio precision that nicely exacerbates the tension and frustration in Brock's wordplay, but they do let their hair down a bit at the end with the ferocious and slightly Husker Du-esque 'What People Are Made Of'.
There's a lot of his most memorable lyrics here, possibly in part because several songs still employ the mantra-like repetition that they were so fond of early on. What's most notable with hindsight though is how ambitious and varied this album is, mixing swooping country balladeering with wonky indie rock and hypnotically repetitive passages of twisting guitars and yelp-chanted vocals. It all reaches its peak in penultimate track 'Life Like Weeds', which does all the above things and makes them sound easy, with a mastery of emotional manipulation that brings to mind the first couple of dEUS albums. It's aged very well I think, if anything it sounds better than I remember.
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