Has it really be eight years since Modest Mouse released their last long-player, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank?  Though they did release the odds and sods compilationNo One’s First And Your Next in 2009, it has indeed been that long…and while some things have changed, many have stayed the same. In the time since the No One’s First… release, the Mouse have still been their usual road warrior selves (engaging in numerous tours) but they shelved a previous attempt at a follow-up after lengthy studio sessions and they also have undergone a line-up change as well. Co-founding member and bass player Eric Judy left the band to spend more time with his family, while drummer Joe Plummer is now handling that job for Cold War Kids. In fact the touring band now consists of nine members...a far cry from the humble original trio of Brock, Judy and drummer Jeremiah Green.

It may have been forever since Modest Mouse last released new music, but that doesn’t mean that main Mouseketeer Isaac Brock’s songwriting has changed any. In short; this album is loaded with all the tricks of the trade that we have come to expect from the Pacific Northwesterners and while maybe it is a tad bloated and somewhat soft(15 songs and 5 credited producers), it’s still great to have new MM music to dissect.

I guess it’s not surprising that Strangers to Ourselves most resembles We Were Dead… in both tempo and tone, and that’s a shame for fans wanting to hear something in the vein of their nineties output; but that was a different band for a different time. Not that Modest Mouse has ever been anything other than creative and ambitious…just check out “Heart Cooks Brain,” “Interstate 8” or “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine” from the Up Records-era of the band to appreciate how many flourishes Brock could work into a single song; and that’s still the case here, but it just doesn’t feel as raw and unhinged. Though it’s the late 90s incarnation of the band that appeals to me more, you have to applaud Brock and his cohorts for wanting to expand musically, but ultimately, much like We Were Dead…, this album is a disappointment, if only because they have set such a high bar!

The title track leads off the album and it is a lush lullaby of muted vocals from Brock, while cellos mourn and brushes caress drums in the distance. “Coyotes” is likewise a mellow number that tells the story of the time a coyote simply hopped on-board the Portland Light Rail Transit.

 Lead single “Lampshades on Fire” and “The Best Room” is more typical recent sounding MM, in fact it is cut from the same musical cloth as the hit crossover singles “Float On” and “Dashboard,” with it’s speak/sing delivery and mid-tempo groove.
The album’s high point comes in the form of the infectious “The Ground Walks with Time in a Box.” This track bristles with dance floor energy and draws immediate comparisons toThe Moon and Antartica’s “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes”. Likewise, “Shit in Your Cut” has another favourable bassline, only this time it’s more ominous in it’s execution.

“Be Brave” is an excellent song that shares the same musical DNA as We Were Dead’s “March into the Sea”, while “Sugar Boats” has that familiar big top circus flare with Brock acting as the carnival barker.

Modest Mouse has quietly become an American musical institution over the course of their now twenty year career and though they have never come close to making a bad album, with We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank and now with Strangers To Ourselves the band has hit a leveling off point. Isaac Brock has already proven himself to be a creative and uniquely talented songwriter, I have no doubts that he can pull Modest Mouse back up to the heights where they so rightly belong!

- Johnny Hooper