November 25th 2004 O Modest Mouse, How I Love Thee

I’m on a perpetual quest. The goal of this never-ending quest is to find the Holy Grail of Music—music so pure as to approach perfection. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet found that mythical melody. I’ve come relatively close on more than one occasion. Naturally I know that no music can be so pure as to be perfect, but every time I listen to something new on the radio, I’m reminded that somewhere out there is music that is so pure and so good that it might as well be perfect.

Of course, perfection in music is difficult to attain, as perfection differs from person to person. What I consider perfect may be complete trash to you, and vice versa. So in terms of musical perfection, I can only speak for myself.

The biggest thing I look for in music is originality. I can’t stand to listen to bands that are just doing the same thing as someone before. I admire many of my favorite bands not so much for their musical talent (which they all have), but for their creativity. Led Zeppelin, for instance, helped change the face of rock in the Seventies. Their music was original. It was different. The same goes for Nirvana. Although Kurt Cobain was not the most technical of guitar players, the release of Nevermind in 1991 signaled a distinct change from the hair metal of the Eighties. Say what you want about Cobain—he helped rescue us from White Snake and Poison, and for that I am thankful.

When it comes to creativity, there are a couple things I look for in music. I like interesting lyrics that say something and make sense. I also like a good melody. The actual music is very important to me. I grow tired of recycled power-chord guitar riffs and lyrics screamed into a microphone. Such music is boring—it’s been done before. The music can be saved if the lyrics are provocative and interesting or the rhythm is different and exciting, but in today’s pseudo-punk pop music scene, the lyrics are often as stale as month-old bread.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking for something melodic, something different from thrashed guitar chords and vocals, something that really contains the heart and soul of music. It is this search that brought me back to an old favorite—a wonderful but somewhat obscure band (in terms of other “mainstream” groups) called Modest Mouse. I’ve known of Modest Mouse for a while—I even own one of their albums, The Moon and Antarctica—and I’ve long considered myself a fan, but I guess you could say I’ve never really listened to them before. I did the other night, though, and let me tell you: I liked what I heard.

Modest Mouse is different from a lot of other stuff you may have listened to as of late. Modest Mouse’s riffs are not as “chord-based” as other rock music, in the sense that the musicians spend a lot more time picking individual notes rather than strumming chords. You might say that plenty of other bands do this—that’s what the lead guitarist is for. But Modest Mouse is different: even the “rhythm guitarist” does a lot of picking.

Even the bass parts are melodic in the sense that the bassist doesn’t spend all his time playing root notes. His bass lines have a melody all their own. On many tracks, he reminds me of Sir Paul McCartney; as far as melodic bass lines go, the bass line for Modest Mouse’s “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” is reminiscent of The Beatles’ “Come Together”.

Most importantly of all (at least to me) is that Modest Mouse’s music is very mellow. It’s relaxing. It’s the kind of stuff you’d throw on if you want to lay back and just enjoy life. It’s probably great if you’ve been smoking the herb, too, but you’d have to talk to someone more knowledgeable than I for that kind of information.

I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here, but I would like to say that Modest Mouse has inspired me in my own musical pursuits. I’ve played in a few bands in my day (November, Pomegranate, another November, Vinylslide, and IPU) and they’re all quite good. I’ve loved playing every moment of playing with all of them, and I certainly plan on remaining active in the two that (more or less) still exist (Vinyslide and IPU). However, I’ve long though about forming a group that plays more relaxing, more melodic music, and one in which I could play guitar, not bass. Maybe those plans are a bit ambitious, but after listening to Modest Mouse again, they’re something I’d like to keep in the back of my mind.

Anyhow, Modest Mouse is a band that I recommend everyone check out. They’re very relaxing and very talented. Most importantly, they are a welcome departure from the unoriginal and uninspired garbage that you’re probably used to hearing on the radio or watching on MTV.