Modest Mouse - The Lonesome Crowded West (1997), 8/10

The Lonesome Crowded West is existential, jangly and angry, as any great Modest Mouse album should be, and Isaac Brock's vocals are deeply moving and emotionally raw. As a follow up to the also impressive This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About, it is still clearly a step up in quality, particularly in songwriting and production. While the former clearly focused on loneliness and sorrow, with some moments of frustration, TLCW hones in on anger as a reaction to the outside world and its maddeningly rapid evolution. Despite the overarching tone of anger and outrage, the record is filled with an impressive array of relentless metaphors, as the title foretells. The themes of over-industrialization in the band's small town, drug use, alcoholism, and religion provide something practically anyone can appreciate and relate to at this stage in history. Of course what really makes this album exceptional beyond its lyrics and status as a concept are its arrangements and individual instrumental performances, coming together to create something that is distinct yet surprisingly timeless. Isaac grabs you right away with his unhinged vocal and instrumental performance in "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine" wasting no time in introducing his trademark ferocity. As mentioned, he not only provides impressively gripping vocals, but also contributes piercing and striking guitar workings throughout the record, remarkably consistently. We certainly get the trademark Modest Mouse sounds from start to finish, Brock's guitar tone manipulation and timely 90s-esque record scratching notwithstanding. Yet there is not a single song on the record that is not genuinely emotionally moving even as standalone songs. The percussion from Jeremiah Green stands out right away as well, and is persistently creative and varied on every song. Tracks like “Heart Crooks Brain”, “Cowboy Dan” and “Truckers Atlas” propose and offer a thrilling and haunting set of performances, portraying the album’s theme with remarkable potency. "Styrofoam Boots/It's All On Ice, Alright" serves as a fittingly frantic closer to a frantic record. There is an idiosyncrasy to the mood and atmosphere of The Lonesome Crowded West, yet its tone and themes are prophetic. The absolute pinnacle of indie rock. Pitchfork's mini-doc on the album serves as a fun tribute and gives insight into the band's environment, mindsight and peers at the time.