Modest Mouse

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
Epic

Ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr knows a little something about dealing with strong-willed vocalists, so it's no surprise that his contributions to the poppiest Modest Mouse record yet are solid. But it's still a treat to hear how focused Isaac Brock and company are on the lushly arranged Ship, perhaps thanks to new member Marr's steadying veteran influence. "Dashboard" is Talking Heads taking a spin at the roller disco, while other songs channel the maritime folk of the Waterboys and the Pogues, strident dance punk and (as usual) Built to Spill's nervous energy and Pavement's drawl. Even the occasional nod to Mouse's less-accessible days somehow feel more mystical than manic. At the same time, vocalist Isaac Brock's grunts, growls and existential musings sound even more unhinged -- mainly because he's up against hi-fi production, airtight hooks and numerous appearances by Shins vocalist James Mercer (the latter's reedy, cherubic tenor anchors the rollicking R.E.M.-like "Florida" and the ridiculously catchy lockstep march "We've Got Everything"). And while the album starts to feel boring and bloated by the end, its sublime moments, coupled with the band's newfound clarity, make for a bewitching listen.

 
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