Taken from the brilliantly titled odds and ends album No One’s First, And You’re Next those inspired indie inventors Modest Mouse moved into their Post Johnny Marr phase with suitable style and grace. While the indie world fell over themselves to Praise The Arcade Fire it was always Modest Mouse (for me) who represented the cutting edge of modern American rock music with intelligence, stylish flair and grooves in that era we are yet to find a proper name for. I file them mentally along side TV On The Radio, R.E.M & Sparklehorse in the US scene and equals to the UK’s own Radiohead, The Beta Band and The The for intelligent indie.
We’re not here this week for indie rock whatabouterry. We’re here for the tales of the high seas, the huge deadly beasts that traverse the deep. Leaping from the cold dark subterranean otherness to do battle with harpoons and chains. Yesterday I mentioned how The Decemberists (also in Modest Mouse’s wheelhouse in a Pitchfork kinda way… Wheelhouses, pitchforks… Honestly this is gold) were the first SFTD whale song reference. I neglected to mention Whale the band. They have long held a place close to my heart for their two albums of brilliant Euro Indie Pop that hit during the grunge boom. So the Siren Song of Four Big Speakers may lure us back out into open water. Heave away boys.
Is it possible to describe a song which could sucker the listener into believing it’s an instrumental as ‘about’ anything though? Just because the track is called Whale Song should it count as a rock song about Whales? What if it essentially could be described as a really long guitar solo with some wittering in the second half. What’s the wittering saying?
“I guess I am a scout, so I should find a way out, so everyone should find a way out, I guess I am a scout”
Over and over again, while that wirey high pitched guitar tone is allowed to Crazy Horse itself Like A Hurricane all over the song. That the band’s leader and Svengali Isaac Brock chose this most unconventionally structured tune as a track worthy of a fairly decent budgeted video tells you quite a lot about how Modest Mouse do things their way. They push the envelope in all sorts of directions when it comes to indie rock. Nautical themes are a fairly constant presence in their mix of ye oldey world imagery and song titles. We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, Missed The Boat, Ocean Breathes Salty, Float On. It’s written into their ‘whole thing’ in a nicely quill tipped cursive script.
The narrator in this track may be searching around in Tom Waits‘ Whale. Looking for a blow hole, a mouth or an exit of any kind. Get us back topside. He’s not coming back with any good news just yet.
“God, I wish I would’ve found a way out, I guess I am a scout, So I should find a way out, It’s the last time, I guess I gotta find a way out, We were happy”
Just like Moby Dick’s strange narrative took twists and turns (and lighting strikes setting harpoons aglow) we might need Modest Mouse’s Whale Boat Captain from their other track King Rat (I guess rats end up at sea too) to get “Lucky Lucky Lucky” this time. At the risk of sparking another Love Song death spiral I’ll cautiously point out that Modest Mouse are not the only band on my iPod with a track called Whale Song.
Pearl Jam’s Lost Dogs (you don’t get many of those at sea) features a track of the same name. It’s a wordy track written by and featuring a lead vocal performance from drummer Jack Irons. I also have a track by Suffolk’s answer to The Levellers, The Salty Dogs (OK, maybe you do get them at sea) on my list but I can’t find you a video for that online despite it being a right old jig. Take your chances in the wash.