Modest Mouse, "Strangers to Ourselves" (Epic Records)
It's been eight years since Modest Mouse's album "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank" smashed onto the U.S. charts at No. 1. Will lightning strike twice for frontman Isaac Brock with the long-gestating "Strangers to Ourselves"?
Stranger things have happened.
After aborted sessions over the course of three years — in Atlanta with Outkast's Big Boi and Portland, Oregon, with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic — and countless hours of studio tweaking, the resulting album is a hodgepodge of styles and ideas that improves with every listen.
Although the 15-track release lacks a cohesive structure — with experimental space rock such as "Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)" rubbing up against calypso-influenced travelogues like "Ansel" — the joy of "Strangers to Ourselves" is in anticipating what challenging curveball will be pitched next.
Every time Brock and Co. flick on the Modest Mouse-autopilot (leadoff single "Lampshades on Fire" and acoustic lament "Coyotes"), they veer thrillingly off-course, throwing out a funk-flecked, brass-coated track like "The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box" or a menacing slow crawl like "S(asterisk)(asterisk)t in Your Cut."
Brock has said fans won't have to wait long for a sequel to "Strangers" — we can only hope he's as good as his word, as Modest Mouse is the very rarest of breeds — a chart-topping rock act with brains.