Among the copious high-profile titles that dropped June 25 from younger giants of all genres (such as Tyler, the Creator, Lucy Dacus, Doja Cat and more than 40 more artists), many older indie rock fans were surprised with a long-awaited album: “The Golden Casket,” the iconic Modest Mouse’s new, 12-track album — its first after a six-year hiatus. Luckily, the wait was not as devastating as it was for its previous album “Strangers to Ourselves,” which fans waited eight years for after the band released three titles in the first half of the decade. Over the more recent years, the band has slowed its production and has seen significant lineup changes with iconic members such as Johnny Mar and bassist Eric Judy leaving; and with them, the band’s more familiar, consistent sound retired too.
“The Golden Casket,” Modest Mouse’s seventh studio album, is nothing identical to its past work — it is chaotic and complex. The band attempts to cram various textures into each song, stuffing them with blaring electronic elements and disorienting melodies. And although this description sounds awful, it surprisingly works well more often than not throughout the record and displays with bright lights a more quirky existential element of the band. Between the glitching optimistic sounds of their heavy electric guitars, the megaphone distortion Isaac Brock uses to color his vocals with static noise and the lyrics’ critique on the underwhelming human experience as technology advances, the album succeeds as an entire entity. It has a hyper, more experimental sound while maintaining the classic grim outlook on the world that Brock is known for.
Some of the most bizarre, snarky tracks such as “Fuck Your Acid Trip,” “The Sun Hasn’t Left” and” Transmitting Receiving” steer the furthest from the band’s usual sound with exciting electronic white noise, trumpets, echoes, strobing guitars and glitching backing vocals. Modest Mouse crosses all boundaries of the original indie-rock genre it was boxed into, erasing them with more experimental flavors scattered across the album.
Brock’s psychedelic, repetitive lyricism feeds into the record’s dark thematic paranoia of technology and the future, which is ironic as these tracks feature more modern instrumentals. The more melancholic, vulnerable tracks of the album such as “Lace Your Shoes,” “Leave a Light On” and “Wooden Soldiers” portray a transcendental yearning for future moments from the perspectives of a new father, an old friend and a victim of pandemic isolation. It’s confrontational and aggressive; Brock’s writing wears out the songs with paranoid mania, causing those who listen to start questioning whether their own privacy or experiences are authentic.
There are some misses in this tracklist, such as “We Are Between,” which was the first single released and was performed on late-night shows to promote the record. It falls short of its potential and panders to the mainstream; the song sounds overproduced, and the awkward mixing of vocals and textures throughout it results in the high energy seeming inorganic. At times, some of the earlier tracks suffer similarly — cluttered choruses and bland lyrics cloud “Wooden Soldiers” and “We’re Lucky.”
“The Golden Casket” is by no means a perfect album, but the band’s step toward experimentation with a newer age sound proves successful. The electronic, colorful palette of the first half of the album satisfies those who enjoy more of the band’s newer upbeat, optimistic rhythm, while the B-side samples more of its old-school sounds with “Japanese Tree.”
There is something for every fan because of this variety; despite the tracks’ unique soul and varied sounds, every song sounds like Modest Mouse. The band continues to display the same impressive talent they have had for more than 20 years, even without the few members who have left the band. It is not often that bands of older generations continue to improve upon themselves and jump in risky directions and land on their feet, but Modest Mouse withstands the test of time.