Un-modest Mouse

Permit me to break protocol for a moment. Modest Mouse is arguably the most dynamic and interesting band in the country--an argument strongly supported by last year's epic of unprecedented scope and dark, weary beauty, The Moon and Antarctica.

But if Recess happens to be the only source for all your pop culture info, then chances are you've probably never heard of them, because we've only mentioned them once after four albums and years of touring. Oops. Rather than continue our marginalization of these indie-rock mystics by grading this first-time release of their long-lost "infant" album on its immature and sometimes feckless composition, I'm abusing the power of reviewer to draw the attention of anyone who might still be in the dark. Go buy Moon and Antarctica post-haste, and then we'll talk about Sad Sappy Sucker.

Back? Someone hearing Modest Mouse for the first time with this album would probably be turned off; like most songs in their large catalog, this bunch takes a few runs through before any of it sounds like more than a collection of half-baked ideas--and even then it's a bit uncooked. Recorded when frontman Isaac Brock was a teenager and before bassist Eric Judy replaced their two extraneous guitarists, Sucker shows every bit of the band's very young age.

Despite 26 tracks, it runs just a little more than half an hour. Many songs are under a minute, and several apparently were recorded on an answering machine--short bursts of one-offs that can only be of passing interest to completists. The real songs largely lack the wicked lyrics and never-ending mathematical riff equations that drone into the sublime. For anyone well-steeped in Mouse canon, however, nuggets such as "Worms vs. Birds," "From Point A to Point B" and "It Always Rains On A Picnic" are pleasingly raw predecessors to Brock's (somewhat) more mature art.

The timing of this release is perhaps questionable. After the monstrous hype surrounding The Moon and Antarctica, this is an awkward follow-up, even from the archives--sort of like scoring with a hot date and then showing her your old collection of Magic cards and Star Trek costume apparel. But from the vantage point of a true believer, Sucker's jagged edges and scraggly amateurism can be exciting in its undiscipline. Hearing within these baby photos the tiny seeds of a distinct sound that has now grown ripe and full gives hope that Moon and Antarctica was not the peak of Modest Mouse's artistry, but the first classic in a long chain of good-and-evil, life-and-death musical ponderings.

You don't have Moon and Antarctica yet? Go!


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