Still Relevant Rebellion

Modest Mouse’s “The Lonesome Crowded West”


Beck Mac, Staff writer

The first time I listened to the “Lonesome Crowded West” album by Modest Mouse I was working another shift at my dead-end grocery store job. It instantly connected with me.

Modest Mouse is instantly recognizable from the sound of drummer Jeremiah Green’s rolling beats, bassist Eric Judy’s rhythmic and dancey bass lines and the harmonic hits and whammy bar pull-ups of the guitar. This unique instrumentation exemplifies the sound of the late 90’s post-grunge era and it gives the album the sound and feeling it needs to express their anti-consumerist ideas.

The first song, “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine”, perfectly depicts the sense of anxiety, loneliness and anger of the entire album. We are thrown directly into the record with Brock screaming over a cacophony of noise. The transitions in the song are abrupt and create the erratic and anxious feeling. Living outside of Seattle in the 90’s, lead singer Issac Brock saw the paving over of the west through urban sprawl and its useless strip malls.You can feel the isolation and discontent that comes from rebelling against America’s increasingly consumerist culture in the lyrics, “The malls are the soon to be ghost towns so long, farewell, good-bye”. This is the album explained and experienced in one song.

The song “Cowboy Dan” is a dark and loud tale of a cowboy who is discontent with the changing landscape. It bleeds with paranoia and beauty. The rhythmic lyrics, “Because Cowboy Dan’s a major player in the cowboy scene,/ He goes to the reservation drinks and gets mean,/He didn’t move to the city/ The city moved to me/ And I want out desperately,” gives the song a drive that is paired with repetitive instrumentals with enough empty space to give it an ambient feeling. The chorus is a complete change of pace with thoughtfully plucked-out notes, a slower beat and softer singing. But the track quickly returns to the loud and brooding verse completing the cycle of the song.

“Lonesome” feels like it’s constantly moving. The string of four songs “Out of Gas”, “Long Distance Drunk”, “Shit Luck” and “Truckers Atlas” have an energy of moving across the interstates and highways that influenced a large part of the album. The song “Trucker Atlas” stands out to me because of drummer Jeremiah Green’s rolling drum line and tempo changes throughout the song.
The last two tracks stand out as the only acoustic songs in the album. “Bankrupt On Selling” is about dissatisfaction with capitalism. The lyrics “Well all the Apostles-they’re sitting in swings saying, ‘I’d sell off my Savior for a set of new rings,” is an example of the recurring motif of religious imagery on the record and represents a common theme of the record that those who sell off everything for material happiness will end up emotionally bankrupt.

Lastly, there is “Styrofoam Boots/It’s on ice, Alright”, (a personal favorite). It is one of the few songs that could be described as somewhat happy. The song enters with only two cords on an acoustic guitar with a twangy bluegrass-style picking pattern. The opening line “Well all’s not well, but I’m told that it’ll all be quite nice, you’ll be drowned in boots like Mafia, but your feet will still float like Christ’s,” shows there is a little bit of absurd hope even in the most dire situations.

Great music explores themes that are relevant when they are made, but still remain true today. The “Lonesome Crowded West” has gained a cult following for a very good reason. Modest Mouse makes great music that was unique for the time and that still feels fresh and relevant today. No other album embodies the American nightmare of endless parking lots and strip malls combined with the tropes of the western cowboys and the failing American dream like the “Lonesome Crowded West”. I would recommend that anyone give this album a listen. It is truly one of a kind, and as someone who goes to school in a mall, this album felt extra personal.