Modest Mouse — “Float On”

Released: 2.14.04

Peak: #68

Why Keith is not in A&R, chapter umptillion: A couple months before Modest Mouse released Good News For People Who Love Bad News, I was angling for an interview with the band for these in-store music mags I edited. Their publicist said put ’em on the cover or no dice. I called her bluff. Who was interested in a Modest Mouse cover in 2004? Along with Built to Spill, Issaquah’s finest were among those few remaining prestige “indie-rock” artists major labels kept around to help their employees sleep at night. A Modest Mouse cover? Oh, didn’t we have a laugh in the Red Flag offices that day.

So, um, yeah, that’s why I’m better suited to these retrospectives than to those “Bands to Watch” features. The album debuted top twenty, and this in an age before Spoon could break top ten with a couple thousand in sales. I somehow hadn’t noticed “Float On” bubbling under all this while; belatedly hearing it was a “no duh” flash of recognition. Not that Modest Mouse had drastically modified their style: few indie faves have entered the ranks of the one-hit wonders while staying so true to their sound. Isaac Brock’s guitar pokes around with no less desultory a feel than usual, and, as always, Jeremiah Green’s slapdash indie-funk groove contains the chaos. The band had simply transmuted what they did into something more broadly palatable.

Maybe some familiarity with the band makes the sunny counsel of perpetual sad sack Brock seem that much more wondrous. But anyone attuned to the victory anthems that flood sports arenas can feel the modesty of Brock’s optimism. “We’ll all float on all right” sure isn’t “We are the champions,” and those gauging the diminished expectations of post-boom American might note that all that “Float On” promises is that we won’t spend every last second of our life wincing in misery. But for Brock, that perspective is a small triumph, even as “winning isn’t everything” has become a truly revolutionary notion in the all-or-nothing economy of later-than-ever capitalism.

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