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Musical Pairings: Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West

“Which album sounds like a stuffed pepper?” This is the type of question I find myself seriously pondering before writing a pairing. In this case, my answer to that question would appear to be Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West. Although I’m finding it hard to explain, it just seems like an intuitive pairing. And maybe it is because when you pull the stuffed pepper out of the oven, it at first seems a little underwhelming. But this is why this is such an intriguing dish. At first all that you see is what appears to be dry, well-cooked beef spilling out of a poblano pepper. But once you cut into it, you realize there is a lot going on inside this dish: nutmeg, marjoram, parsley, onion, and both turkey and beef mixed together. The insides are moist, juicy and flavorful. And so really the only place this pairing falls short is that upon first listen you can tell there is nothing simple going on on The Lonesome Crowded West. Instead, you have complex spicy, peppery music that is intriguing and leaves you eager for the next bite. If you are only familiar with Modest Mouse post-Good News For People Who Love Bad News, you really need to check out this album as soon as possible. After all, The Lonesome Crowded West is the best, most innovative album Modest Mouse ever recorded; and it is also one of the best, most innovative, and most overlooked (at least at the time it was released) albums from the 1990s.

Thematically, The Lonesome Crowded West is like a companion piece to Radiohead’s OK Computer, which was also released in 1997. Instead of focusing on the alienation of an urban dweller in the modern world, Modest Mouse’s front man, Issac Brock, focuses on a sense of discomfort and anxiety brought from the sprawl of modern society over the edges of Western America: drunken, angry cowboys, long-haul truckers, and “trailer trash.” The album begins with a sharp, buzzing, saw-like guitar riff and Brock’s insistent, urgent vocals on opener “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine.” This is followed by one of the album’s strongest tracks, “Heart Cooks Brain,” which is quieter, but significantly weirder and also features an enigmatic, fantastically hypnotic guitar line. “Cowboy Dan” is also probably one of the albums best tracks, but is definitely a “grower” featuring lyrics about a mean, drunken cowboy angry at God. Still, the best tracks on the album are found on the second half: “Trailer Trash” and “Bankrupt on Selling.” “Trailer Trash” is a quiet, well-arranged song featuring sparse, controlled percussion and shimmering, guitar lines. “Bankrupt on Selling” is primarily acoustic and relies upon Brock’s lyrics and hoarse delivery. Buy The Lonesome Crowded West on CD here. If you know where I can find a reasonably priced copy on vinyl – send me an e-mail. Seriously.

Modest Mouse – Trailer Trash

Head back to eating-sf to read the recipe for the poblano stuffed peppers.

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Posted by Matthew Hickey

Matthew is the music editor and co-founder of Turntable Kitchen. He’s addicted to vinyl records, pour over coffee, craft beer, small batch bourbon, and pan roasting pork chops.

  • sean raasch

    hey thought you might like this music since you like the mouse. hope you do!

  • sean raasch

    hey thought you might like this music since you like the mouse. hope you do!

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