Music Reviews
The Golden Casket

Modest Mouse The Golden Casket

(Epic Records) Rating - 8/10

Despite its somewhat cheeky title, The Golden Casket finds Modest Mouse steeped in optimism. The veteran indie-rock band has come a long way since 2015's Strangers to Ourselves, a long-gestating project that had frontman Isaac Brok flustered with everything from environmental issues to corporate greed—expressed in his usually tangled, scattered thoughts. But it also showed how the Pacific Northwest troupe had settled comfortably in a musical sense despite its 77-minute runtime, proving that no amount of guest musicians or producers can substitute great songwriting. And for a band as idiosyncratic, it was all the more daunting.

That's not to say that their seventh studio album, and first in six years, has some of the anthemic flavorings that helped propel their 2004 single Float On into a massive radio hit. The dance-driven groove of We Are Between and its all-embracing lyrics are the closest the band has come to replicating that success chart-wise, while the moody synth stabs of Leave the Light On sound like U2-era Zooropa. In both, Brock maintains a positive and communal stance—whether he's willing to welcome others with open arms or sings about how great it is to be alive.

The very essence of being alive is explored here in many different ways, a concept which, in Brock's view, is not worth mulling at length. His joy feels natural and unforced on We're Lucky, on which he feels privileged to appreciate what life offers to him alongside their signature ringing guitars and a horn section. Fatherhood is also top of mind for him, like on Lace Your Shoes, a touching, soaring rocker where he goes into detail about the many ways he can't wait to see his toddler grow up. Brock, though, is equally concerned about the world he's inevitably brought his son and daughter in. He isn't naive to the ugliness of everyday life on Never Fuck a Spider on the Fly, where he criticizes the toxic political divisions that make us more close-minded. Whereas Brock shares the full scope of his apprehensions on album centerpiece Transmitting Receiving, on which he talks about the ways technology controls us and how we let it happen—even if his delusions take him over the edge: "Nothing in this world’s gonna petrify me, we are repeating."

Though The Golden Casket shows Modest Mouse at their most accessible and tuneful, a creative shift that started with 2004's Good News For People Who Love Bad News, they return to some of the experimental aspects that defined so much of their early work. Vigorous punk-lite songs (Japanese Trees) balance out with a richer sonic palette (The Sun Hasn't Left), akin to the sparse use of textured electronic sounds The National used on 2017's Sleep Well Beast. And though some of their ideas don't fully develop, diversifying their sound within a guitar-rock framework revitalizes the band’s dynamics.

This more self-evident side of Modest Mouse may continue to turn off the detractors who appreciate their '90s work, especially those who loved their winding, post-rock affectations. It can feel like a loss because they were so good at that, sure. But Brock hasn't lost any of his inherent weirdness—if anything, his neurotic tendencies are cleverly woven into the band's sweeping sentiments. The one outlier here that may appease all camps is the closing track Back to the Middle, an airy, arpeggiated rocker that builds into an explosive finish. It ends the album on a cryptic yet exciting note—just open-ended enough to the point where we're not exactly sure which direction they'll take us next time. And though we may have to wait a good long time for their next outing, they once again prove that their staying power is undeniable.