Published on August 5th, 2017


MODEST MOUSE | by Ben Moon

Is it too early to talk about Isaac Brock, the hard-to-read mind behind Modest Mouse, as an American treasure? He might hate that, people mounting a fuss over him and his “legacy,” with all the embarrassing valedictory pomp, plus the sneaking sense that lofty retrospectives must mean you’re washed up as an artist.

But if we allow that a creative person has reached impressive career milestones and earned some commendation, and still has great work ahead  — Bob Dylan, for one, made acclaimed albums after being enshrined by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — then we can safely praise Brock without burying him.

As a lyricist, Brock is an important and unsparing observer of life in a land of plenty. As a vocalist, with his battery of strangled cries and broken crooning, he is as eloquent and precise in his street-preacher way as any artist living in 21st Century America at expressing our predicaments — the heedlessness, alienation and futility that undermine  the search for affirmation.

The grim good cheer of the band’s one bona-fide hit, Float On, from 2004, is the best-known example. But just about all of Brock’s output since Modest Mouse formed in the Northwest in 1992 is an astute account of times that are tough on the psyche. “Pack up again, head to the next place/Where we’ll make the same mistakes,” he yelps on Lampshades on Fire (2015), “Open one up and let it fall to the ground/Pile out the door when it all runs out.”

His singing is a strangely perfect complement to Modest Mouse’s music, from the brittle anti-funk of Tiny Cities Made of Ashes (2000) to the disarming tenderness of Strangers to Ourselves, the title track of the 2015 album that took Brock and Co., eight years to deliver.

“I was in the woods a bit, lookin’ at my ’shrooms and things,” is how he explained his absence in a 2015 interview with CBS This Morning: Saturday. Oh, and by the way, CBS is also the network of the annual Kennedy Center Honors for American Arts and Music. You never know who they’ll pick.

Modest Mouse perform 8pm Wednesday, Sept. 6, with Mass Gothic at The Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater.
~ Sean Piccoli

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