We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock’s appeal has always depended on the sense that he’s slightly unhinged. His most striking vocals have been glorious rants, rabid-dog tantrums that only intermittently intersect with standard concepts of pitch and melody.
Much to the dismay of his ’90s clique, Brock toned down that hysteria a bit for the band’s 2004 album, Good News For People Who Love Bad News, and with the single “Float On,” even created a dance-pop hit. In fairness to Brock, however, his recent work has merely refined what Modest Mouse was always about: jagged guitar-funk with a requisite amount of Pavement- and Pixies-derived noise, topped off by his yelping non sequiturs.
What’s most remarkable about MM’s new We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is that the addition of guitarist Johnny Marr — a jangle-pop sound sculptor of the first order — makes very little difference. With the exception of a few crystalline arpeggios here or there, Marr adapts to the band’s sound, and not the other way around.
The album’s best track, the sneering “We’ve Got Everything,” contains the classic MM jumpiness, and if that’s Marr playing the angular riff that drives this song, he’s doing a pretty fair impression of Brock’s playing style. The band’s groove aptitude also surfaces with the hyper single “Dashboard,” a track sullied only by its superflous and grating pseudo-R&B horns.
It’s not hard to read political commentary into Brock’s repeated seafaring allegories, most obviously with the mid-tempo “Missed the Boat” and this pointed verse from “Parting of the Sensory”: “Who the hell made you the boss?/ We placed our chips in all the right spots/ but still lost.” Such psychic malaise suits Brock’s work, and it makes We Were Dead an inviting mix of the feral punk that marked MM’s early work, and the polished professionalism it has grown into.
— Gilbert Garcia
In a recent BBC interview, Nick Cave complained that he finds interviews “hugely” counterproductive.
Considering that he recently released and toured behind an ambitious double album with his musical counterpart the Bad Seeds (Abattoir Blues/Lyre of the Orpheus), and wrote a critically acclaimed screenplay and accompanying soundtrack for the gritty Leone-esque The Proposition, all in a little over two years, it’s easy to see why Cave
doesn’t care to reflect on the past.
To add to the list, Cave — along with Bad Seeds Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey, and Jim Sclavunos —has found time to record Grinderman, an experiment of sorts, more stripped down than the Seeds, but not bordering on chaos like Cave’s earlier work in The Birthday Party.
If you’ve come to expect sweet and merciless piano ballads from Cave, you won’t find them here. In fact, Cave forsakes the ivories altogether for fuzzed-out guitar on “Love Bomb” and the wall-of-noise showcase “Electric Alice.”
Behind the stabbing repetition of Casey’s bass and Sclavunos’s percussion, Ellis joins in the mayhem, mutating his usually transcendent violin into the part of lead guitar, screaming through an assortment of distortion and wah pedals.
With song titles such as “Get It On” and “No Pussy Blues,” Cave wastes no time on metaphor or sentiment. Cave seems preoccupied with sex, or rather, the lack thereof. Rest assured, however, he is having fun, for after repeating the refrain of “I got the no-pussy blues” on the aforementioned song, Cave rimshots with “seems I was wrong with the flowers.”
Recorded in a non-stop, five-day session in a London studio, Grinderman seems about as preconceived as a car crash, and that’s not a bad thing.
Simply put, this is pure punk and blues; not necessarily something you wouldn’t expect from Cave, just long overdue.
— Ryan Markmann
I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
From Company Flow to Cannibal Ox to his role as label honcho at Definitive Jux, El-P has had a hand in some of underground rap’s more notable projects of the last 15 years.
El Producto shows off his own musical plans, however, on his second solo release, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead . A dark record with techno-symphonic swirling beats and rough-edged emceeing, the album is focused more on displaying and developing his immense abilities as a producer, intricately layering instruments and sounds, than on his rhymes. This ends up being a good thing for all involved, because the tracks on which the synths die down and the vocals are pushed to the forefront (“Drive,” “The Overly Dramatic Truth”) are among the weakest on the record. Instead, it’s the ominous and churning production, inspired by the grime and industry of the big city, percussion-like hammers and churning trains, that illuminates El-P’s most impressive skills.
Even his songs with such non-rap artists as Trent Reznor and Cat Power — which, under supervision of the less-talented, are often cheesy and disappointing — maintain the level of quality and driving intensity that make El-P’s work riveting, keeping him an influential force in hip-hop for more than a decade.
— Marisa Brown