10 Best Modest Mouse Songs
The Modest Mouse catalog can easily be divided into two categories: their major-label ’00s output and their independent ’90s releases. You could also place the dividing line at ‘Float On,’ far and away their best-known song, which remains enjoyable despite its overexposure. But, Modest Mouse’s early work, the material that got them to the majors, is a special brand of indie rock. Peerless at the time, the group has no real successors in today’s indie scene. Maybe Modest Mouse are the last of the the great, original guitar-rock bands. Check out this list of the 10 Best Modest Mouse Songs to see why.
For No. 10 on our Best Modest Mouse Songs list, we go back to 1994 for one of their earliest tracks. Available now on ‘Sad Sappy Sucker,’ ‘Dukes Up’ captures Modest Mouse looser and more carefree than they are today. The song keeps things short and sweet. It’s pretty much all intro and could almost be seen as a goof, but if you need a quick rush of adrenaline, it might be the best Modest Mouse has. That or ‘S— Luck.’
This deep cut from their debut LP shows the band working with their most successful formula, albeit condensed down to a more manageable sub-four-minute form than usual. It’s solid when frontman Isaac Brock sings the opening, but it becomes a classic as they jam out the last two minutes.
Few would call ‘The Moon and Antarctica’ a misstep, as it’s widely considered a classic, and it finds Modest Mouse jumping to the major-label ranks without sacrificing anything in terms of artfulness. ‘3rd Planet’ opens the disc, and because of that placement, it’s the first Modest Mouse song a long of people heard, and it’s one of their most iconic songs. The reason the album is kind of a bummer is that it marked a change in songwriting style. Brock has made good albums since, but he’s never been as inspired as on the ones he produced prior to ‘Moon.’ ‘3rd Planet’ was Modest Mouse getting more mature, the corollary being that the shine of youth was gone forever.
As ‘Broke’ attests, Brock was a masterful wordsmith from day one. Throughout the song, he plays on the word “broke,” dropping lines like, “Broken hearts want broken necks / I’ve done some things that I want to forget but I can’t.” Of course, the vocals are just half the story, and like all of Modest Mouse’s best work, the song’s climax is also thrilling. It’s the first single Modest Mouse released, and it’s also one of their best.
‘Baby Blue Sedan’
Somehow, ‘Baby Blue Sedan’ didn’t make it on ‘The Lonesome Crowded West,’ but the song’s refrain of “It’s hard to be a human being, it’s harder than anything else, and I’m lonely when you’re around, and I’m never lonely when I’m by myself” is as blunt and poetic and brutal a sentiment as you’re likely to find. But even those words don’t match the heartache of “I miss you when you’re around.” One of Brock’s finest lyrics, it captures the difference between ideals and reality.
‘Whenever You Breathe Out, I Breathe In (Positive Negative)’
Praising a song for its ability to capture depression seems a little questionable, but ‘Whenever You Breathe Out, I Breathe In (Positive Negative)’ warrants that praise. It’s about not wanting to work, leave the house or talk to anyone, and yet there’s something peaceful and resigned about the song, as if the narrator’s inability to relate is also a source of pride, something that makes a person unique. The b-side to their first single, ‘Broke,’ this tune is a reminder of how, strangely enough, Modest Mouse emerged in top form.
‘Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine’
At No. 4 on the 10 Best Modest Mouse Songs list, ‘Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine’ is the opening song and tone-setter for the band’s best album. In the collection’s opening minutes, Brock already sounds like he’s sung his voice away, and while the song can feel lost and directionless at times, it reveals a master plan just seconds later. Lyrically, the Orange Julius reference is a flashback to a specific time before smoothies or outdoor shopping centers — before everything was taken over by malls, and those types of place still felt unique and weird.
‘Talkin’ S— About a Pretty Sunset’
When Modest Mouse get pretty, it’s never that pretty. The flaws are noticeable, easy to call out, sometimes glaring. The concept of ‘Talkin’ S— About a Pretty Sunset’ is how their loveliest songs feel. And perhaps the best lyric ever sung about opinions: “Changed my mind so much I can’t even trust it, my mind changed me so much I can’t even trust myself.’ Plus, the closing couple of minutes with the strings and guitars playing in unison make this one of the harder songs to talk s— on.
‘Trailer Trash’ is a song that describes some very personal aspects of Brock’s life and a sort of loathing of his family and their status that grew until he left home. The song is touching in that as much as he resents them, he winds up missing them and apologizing for the way he acted. The turns of phrase hit hard, and lines like “I shout that you’re all fake, and you should have seen the look on your face” may not seem that impressive on the page, but thanks to Brock’s cadence, they pack a punch. And of course, there’s the progression of the music, with a memorable guitar line that turns into a pretty grand concluding mini-solo, and the instrumental second half of the song is arguably better than the first. ‘Trailer Trash’ is a standout from a classic album, showing a band powered by perfect chemistry, completely unaware that they are making an all-time great record.
‘Night on the Sun’
‘Night on the Sun,’ tops on our list of the Best Modest Mouse Songs, is the sound of a group having its cake and eating it, too. Released as a Japanese single in 1999, it was likely left over from the ‘Moon and Antarctica’ sessions, but it doesn’t quite fit with that material. The band gives itself the space to really explore and make the huge peaks feel truly dramatic — something they haven’t done with their more focused and mature major-label work. But the lyrical themes are more akin to latter-day Mouse than they are to ‘The Lonesome Crowded West.’ Beyond all that, the song is simply stunning, as Brock yells his “Well there’s one thing to know about this town, it’s 500 miles underground” to terrific effect. But the instrumental half at the end showcases what makes the band great. Every note serves as a reminder of what inspiration sounds like.