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Modest Mouse

Somehow, Modest Mouse transitioned from a hardscrabble, DIY trio into a refined and imposing six-piece monstrosity without losing their bizarre charm. After more than 10 years as a band and countless albums, EPs and excursions (personal and professional), Modest Mouse is--in spite of setbacks, changes of plans and an awkward shuffle into the limelight--undeniably impressive.

There is little this talented group of musicians cannot do (or will not try), including adopting former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr for this album. Still, it is frontman Isaac Brock who allows the band to (accept the pun) sink or swim, and they nicely float (up) on his skittish vocals and twisted wordplay.

The skeletons of what was once, apparently, a concept album (with a lot about ships, sinking and drowning) are still firmly intact without being detracting. Most impressive, We Were Dead is adventurous (14 songs; one hour) without being utterly self-indulgent or onerous. From the whip-snap stomp of "We've Got Everything" to the oscillating waves of "Dashboard," this band knows catchy.

Be it forlorn melancholia ("Missed the Boat"), epic acoustic/psychedelic screeds ("Spitting Venom") or P-Funk-esque rants ("Education"), this album occupies a unique place in the band's catalogue. Its relentless pessimism may turn off those who enjoyed the bruised optimism of Good News ... , yet its wedding of their past and present sounds will provide former fans a perfect entry point into the new regime. Either way, one should admire a band that embraces change and disaster so swimmingly.

More by Michael Petitti

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