No matter what your home life was like, growing up is a gradual and painful process. This is the time when kids figure out what they like, and they’re trying to find anything that can comfort them and make them feel less alone in the world. For many, this was the time when we stopped listening to the music our parents had been playing for us and explored our own new territories. One band that many kids from the millennial generation and Generation Z gravitated heavily toward was Modest Mouse, and it has provided an interesting dimension to those kids’ musical development, which is especially noticeable now that those kids are in their 20s and 30s.
Growing up is an exciting and energetic time, but at the same time, it’s sad and chaotic and angry. The genius of Modest Mouse is that they manage to perfectly capture these complex emotions. Their album “Good News For People Who Love Bad News” begins with an incredible, loud fanfare; their song “Horn Intro” sets listeners up for a joyous and highly-animated album, before directly sweeping into the sweet, nostalgic chords of “The World At Large,” with lead singer Isaac Brock whispering, “The days get shorter and the nights get cold / I like the autumn but this place is getting old.”
It sweeps seamlessly into their most popular song, “Float On,” with its peppy guitar, and the band continues to amaze with the endless risks they’re willing to take. The dynamic combination of song transitions, lyrics and instrumental mastery is exactly what excites its listeners.
Aside from their powerful lyrics and the emotions the band stirred up in our younger selves, Modest Mouse is also a demonstration of actual music of quality, unlike the top chart hits on the radio or the dad bands that we were exposed to through our parents (much too early to appreciate).
Each Modest Mouse song has layers, which require you to carefully peel them in order to understand why the songs are as good as you always knew they were. The lyrics tell a story, but so do the instruments; the hi-hat, electric guitar, bass and the snare drum all mingle together fluidly.
In the song “Ocean Breathes Salty,” we are sent into a feeling of mutual nostalgia, as the bass carries the melody, almost as though it’s shrugging its shoulders and telling us, “Oh, well, things happen, but what can you really do?” This is something better heard than explained, and it’s heard much more clearly after 30 dedicated listens. This is what it takes to understand the beauty of each Modest Mouse song.
Modest Mouse was, above all else, new. For so many of us, it was a sound that was unheard of and, at first, indigestible. It was weird and aggressive, with odd and fantastical lyrics, and, somewhere along the way, we realized that it worked.
This band made their brand of strangeness accessible to listeners and opened so many doors for future bands to step through. Their new style introduced a modern sound for bands like Arcade Fire, The Shins, Broken Bells and so many others whose music expresses passion, musical integrity and a little bit of quirkiness.
Modest Mouse is also never afraid to be honest. Their songs sometimes break the fourth wall. On the track “Bukowski,” named for the famous poet, after the song has ended, you can hear a quiet voice admit, “I fucked up the fourth line.” In the intro of the song “The Goodtimes Are Killing Me,” you can hear the bandmates talking about whether or not it’s allowed to smoke in the studio. It is easy to understand why so many young, emotional kids gravitated to this new sound, because the band provides an aspect of openness and universality that is so easy to connect with.
It was like someone finally heard our struggle to balance our hormones and our emotions; they scream just like we needed to. They were as angry and ugly as us, but they were something to aspire to be, instead of settling and choosing not to change.
Modest Mouse was such an important band for the development of Gen Z kids and millennials. They were the cool dad at your friend’s house who didn’t try to be anything; he was just honest and human, and that’s what made him so cool.
That relatability, coupled with a unique style (even though they knew, at the time, it wasn’t what was selling) resulted in a sound that only they could produce, and we can aspire to take notes from them, whether we’re making music or just finding new music that could expand our minds in the same way as Modest Mouse.