Modest Mouse’s latest release, No One’s First, And You’re Next, serves as a meeting place between two familiar points. An EP collection of B-sides culled from recording sessions for their previous two releases (Good News For People Who Love Bad News, and We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank), No One’s First is filled with the influence of both albums, yet explores new sonic territories and transitions previously unexplored.
The EP opens with Satellite Skin, in which Isaac Brock spits vitriol through pursed lips over an indie-rock swagger. Never quite reaching the same anger as in the lyrics, the band instead keeps a reserved bitterness often found in Elvis Costello’s work. Guilty Cocker Spaniels is as playful as Modest Mouse might get, with Brock’s fragile voice almost rapping over the rest of band carrying a groove very similar to Float On and it’s Good News kin.
The strongest turn for the disc happens midway through with The Whale Song, a track that references bass lines and guitar work mingling in the vein of Jane’s Addiction. It’s split evenly between a very strong instrumental jam and a chaotic blend of vocals layered over each other, navigating the sea like a crew of fisherman. Probably meant for the nautically-influenced We Were Dead album, its haunting rise and descent present a short three-act play in six minutes of song.
King Rat, originally released in 2007, kicks off with banjo and brass, and Brock stepping to the microphone to utter the words “I love this shit,” nine seconds into the song. A brilliant mix of indie and Dixieland, it certainly shows that the influence of the bayou is far reaching, extending its grasp to the Northwest United States. It swings, it slows, gets dirty, and ends with the screams of a victim finally able to ask his attacker, “What do you have to say for yourself?”
Unlike other B-Side and afterthought compilations, this one strays from the musical flatulence that is usually collected and pushed on the masses. Instead of offering demos or acoustic versions, No One’s First assembles a set of very strong tracks that continue to document the process of Modest Mouse and their collective influences. It strings together songs fluidly and should be book ended by both of the LP’s surrounding. As their musical influences continue to gel (having the guitarist from the Smiths will never hurt), and the willingness to experiment (as seen in the Dirty Dozen Brass Band), they can only get musically stronger as a band and break free of the “indie rock” label.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.