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Modest Mouse

Issaquah, Washington's Modest Mouse is known in indie rock circles for its angular, warping chords, poetic, desolate lyrics, and intricate, mesmerizing drums. Like fellow scenesters (and professed fans) Built To Spill, the trio isn't afraid of some occasional clever wankery, adding extended guitar riffs or rhythm explosions to otherwise simple pop songs. Since their inauspicious beginnings in a shed outside an Issaquah trailer park, Modest Mouse (named for an obscure reference to the American middle class) has become the class of the indie rock world, spokesmen for that huge group of smart misfits who skulk around decrepit pool tables in unfashionable bars and slouch behind messy record store counters, grown-up kids who like their rock intelligent, weird, and edgy. In short, they're an independent music voice on par with The Pixies (another band to whom Modest Mouse is frequently compared).

Initially the four-track project of a suburban malcontent named Isaac Brock, by 1993 Modest Mouse was a bona fide band, featuring Brock, permanent drummer Jeremiah Green, former bassist John Wickhart, and former second guitarist Dann Gallucci (who went on to cofound the Murder City Devils). In this incarnation, Modest Mouse recorded a 12-song album at Dub Narcotic Studio in Olympia in late 1994. The album, titled Sad Sappy Sucker, was shelved indefinitely, making 1996's This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About (Up Records) the band's official debut. In fact, Sad Sappy Sucker didn't see the light of day until the spring of 2001, when K finally issued it as the "lost Modest Mouse album," also including some obscure singles and songs that Brock recorded on his answering machine for his Dial-A-Song project (you dialed a special number to hear a new song each day). The album, featuring "Worms vs. Birds" (from a limited edition seven-inch), reveals Modest Mouse's nascent genius at putting together dark but catchy guitar-based pieces full of jagged edges.

So after the "lost album," Modest Mouse finally arrived in 1996 with the Long Drive LP. By this time Eric Judy had signed on to play bass and the band had become an eclectic emo power trio. A slew of releases followed soon after: also in 1996, the band put out their Interstate 8 EP, and followed that with 1997's critically acclaimed The Lonesome Crowded West LP (both were on Up). In 1997 Modest Mouse also returned to K for the Fruit That Ate Itself EP. "Dirty Fingernails," from that release, is sparse compared to some of their other work, although it has a fair amount of studio trickery, including spooky reverb and skittering back-masking. Brock's rapid-fire vocal delivery and strained emotional state add urgency to this otherwise sedate song. The dueling speak/shout vocals describe, as many Modest Mouse songs do, something utterly mundane (in this case, the interior of a house), yet they manage to infuse the image with a sense of poetry. Judy's resolute bass and Green's steady, precise drumming provide the perfect background to the loping, screeching, ringing guitars.

After the success of these releases, the Issaquah trio earned a major label deal and released the critically praised The Moon & Antarctica, a moody, subdued record that continued to showcase the band's eclecticism and the ongoing evolution of Brock's songwriting sensibilities.