March 22, 2004

Modest Mouse "The Moon & Antartica" (Expanded Edition)

On many levels, this is a pointless release. Considering that Modest Mouse's new album, Good News For People Who Like Bad News is released a month after this reissue--this 'remastered' and 'repackaged' and 'expanded' reissue--makes this record seem less than necessary. Besides, the ones who would be eagerly awaiting the new album would already have the original version of this release, which came out three years ago and was still in print.
One wonders about the logic that went into the release.

But let's not let the obviously puzzling semantics behind this reissue cloud our judgment, shall we? When it came out in 2000, The Moon & Antartica puzzled me. On one level; it was boring. On another level, it contained some of Modest Mouse's best songs. Having never been much of a Modest Mouse fan anyway, I didn't buy into the Issac Brock hype, and while I'm a little more ambivalent to him now, I'm still not convinced that he's the greatest indie rocker since Rimbaud. I certainly am not as obsessive about him as others are, and personally, I find their rags-to-riches story to be quite bizarre. I didn't see what Epic saw in them, to be honest. On the surface, the artwork and the additional tracks appear to be the only things new to this repackaged version of The Moon & Antartica. The album was 'remastered and expanded' and I didn't really expect anything to be that different.

Listening to this album four years later, it's quite obvious something's changed. The remastering job has cleared up the hazy mix of the original, and thus the album is a lot more aggressive than it was before. For instance "Third Planet"--one of my favorite Modest Mouse songs--sounds a whole helluva lot better now than it did then; Brock's singing is clear as a bell, and the instrumental strikes ring harder and louder than it did before. Because of this sonic clean-up, I'm more willing to sit down and listen to The Moon & Antartica all the way through without getting bored. Thus, I can say that I've really enjoyed this album again, and I've taken a liking to songs like "The Stars are Projectors," "Dark Center of the Universe" and "The Cold Part"--all songs that I skipped over to get to songs I liked before, namely "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes," "I Came As a Rat" and "Paper-Thin Walls," the failed, should-have-been-the-single single which I actually heard a time or two on "you choose the playlist" radio station call-in programs. (That's actually test market research under a different name, but that's another story).

While I'm still not convinced of the magical greatness of Modest Mouse, I am definitely listening a little bit harder now. Apparently, some people are proclaiming Good News For People Who Like Bad News to be their masterpiece, and the song samples I've heard may prove the hype to be totally justified. Still, this isn't a bad record; it's just really, really long and occasionally plodding; that it received a reissue treatment like this is puzzling; the four extra songs aren't really that essential and the cover art's not that important of an issue, either. If you've not heard Modest Mouse, I'd suggest holding off for the new album, and then going back for The Moon & Antartica.

--Joseph Kyle

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