'Float On' was an anthem for the mid-noughties--in the midst of global recessions, wars in the Middle East and continued environmental degradation there was something soothing in Isaac Brock declaring that everything was probably going to be fine. Of course, these sentiments were coming from a man whose cynicism saturated his every lyric at the start of the band's career.

Most Modest Mouse fans usually fall into one camp or another: the early diehards who followed them through cult status all the way to mainstream alt-rock fame, and the millennials who hopped on the bandwagon with the ubiquity of 'Float On' and 'Ocean Breathes Salty'. Admittedly I fall into the second camp, but anyone who has cranked their volume dial when they heard the catchy intro riff to 'Dashboard' ought to delve a little deeper into the band's back catalogue.

While the reception toward their newest offering, Strangers to Ourselves, has been lukewarm, a trip through Modest Mouse's first five records is a vital insight into their transformation from DIY raconteurs to icons. Here are eight of the band's "essential" tracks (according to me).


The first track from their debut LP This is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About is a perfect soundtrack to a long and restless journey. Brock's discontent is palpable; every verse further unravels his disillusionment with love. "We kiss on the mouth/but still cough down our sleeves," he observes. In places, the record is ramshackle, its production is rough-around-the-edges and the band's bare bones approach to instrumentation isn't artful just yet, though Brock's crucial pessimism/candour lyrical combo is intact. All in all, 'Dramamine' is an auspicious beginning for a handful of twenty-somethings from Washington State.

'Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset'

This is possibly the closest that early Modest Mouse comes to sounding... beautiful. And the track's delicate elements are only made more poignant by a few of Brock's devastatingly honest lyrics: "I claim I'm not excited with my life anymore/so I blame this town, this job, these friends/the truth is it's myself." Brock is the only member of the band who has been present consistently since its inception in 1993. It's not audacious to assume that he's simply spent over two decades surrounding himself with musicians who have the ability to make his words resonate.

'Dark Center of the Universe'

Let's get one thing straight: The Moon & Antarctica (2000) is a masterpiece. Many still consider it to be the band's creative zenith. 'Dark Center of the Universe' is Brock's furious, redemptive "fuck you" to a dismissive and doubt-filled other. This is a man owning his reputation for being a bit of a bastard: "It took a lot of work to be the ass that I am/And I'm real damn sure that anyone can/equally easily fuck you over," he proclaims in his anarchic half-yelp. No statement of liberation is complete without an unruly guitar lick or two, and the track's chorus is flush with them. There are punk sentiments at the heart of Modest Mouse's most affecting, pre-Good News work. Listening to 'Dark Center of the Universe' in a crowded urban area might make you liable to give the finger to the nearest smug suit that brushes past you.

'Tiny Cities Made of Ashes'

It's a bit of a cop out to slap the word "classic" onto anything when you're trying to argue for its relevance, but 'Tiny Cities Made of Ashes' is quite simply a classic Modest Mouse tune. Everything that would become a hallmark of their sound is here: pitch-bent guitar harmonics, some shout-y bits, a general air of disillusionment, etc.

'Jesus Christ Was an Only Child'

There's an unusual folk flair to this tongue-in-cheek jam from the band's second record The Lonesome Crowded West (1997). Fiddle doesn't often factor in to Modest Mouse's sound, but it makes a tasteful--and kinda fun--appearance here. In retrospect, the album was a cocktail of profound hits (paired with a few messy misses) but its sprawling disillusionment sees Brock and co. exploring their songwriting potential.

'Trucker's Atlas'

At over ten minutes long, this is by far the longest track the band has ever recorded. Like 'Dramamine', it's a road song, but this time they're chronicling a more expansive trip across the continental US. 'Trucker's Atlas' registers like an extended garage-jam; in some ways it's a journey in itself.

'The World At Large'

The best tracks from Good News For People Who Love Bad News (arguably) sound like polished, grown-up versions of something that might have been at home on The Moon & Antarctica. '3rd Planet' was also a close contender for this spot in the playlist, but the two ultimately share a handful of comparable traits. When Brock goes into contemplative lyric mode (as he does with both songs), arpeggiated chords often follow. While '3rd Planet' feels earnest, it's also pervasively negative. 'The World at Large' is indicative of a shift in his worldview; suddenly there's a hint of optimism and the band have a refined new sound to match. Of course, this wasn't necessarily to everyone's liking--regardless, Good News... saw Modest Mouse embrace a more palatable incarnation of their sound and their ethos.

'People As Places As People'

By the time they released We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank in 2007 Modest Mouse's line-up had undergone a few personnel changes. Most notably, they were joined by The Smiths' Johnny Marr in the studio and on the subsequent tour in support of the album. We Were Dead... was essentially an expansion on the refined alt-rock sound they'd cultivated with Good News. Naturally, there was a fan contingent concerned that the band had sold-out--ditching their quirks and sonic tics in favour of high-quality production and a place in the charts. Valid as the allegation may appear, that doesn't mean that the band's fifth record is without merit. Cliché as it sounds, 'People As Places As People' is a moving meditation on attachment. Lyrics like "I hardly have places that I need to go/cause you're the places that I wanted to go," show a vulnerable side to Brock that we hadn't become accustomed to seeing.