Aural Pleasure

By Dave Maher

I must have one of the absolute worst ways of going about discovering new music and movies: reviews. Now you might be thinking, “Dave, a lot of people read reviews to discover new music and movies. It’s kind of the way it goes. I don’t really know where you’re going with this introduction, but if you’re trying to say you’re unique, well, buddy—you’re not.”

Yes, I know that quite a few people read reviews. But I am especially appalled at myself for the uncommonly fierce appetite with which I pursue entertainment journalism when I know, more often than not, that reviews only bring pain. I was almost certain Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would become one of my favorite movies of all time (an unfair hope, I know), but after reading a review that gave it a C+, I almost thought more about the review than the movie as I sat in the theater. I now have similar unrealistically high expectations for Zach “Scrubs” Braff’s Garden State. Now that I think about it, I fell in love with the ideas of both movies based on trailers whose brilliance owe heavily to great songs (Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” and Frou Frou’s “Let Go,” respectively), which brings us back to music.

My Ridiculous Review-Reading Syndrome only gets worse when we’re talking about music. I recently bought Modest Mouse’s new album, Good News for People Who Love Bad News (for eight bucks at Best Buy, I might add—support your local megastore) after reading one hesitantly favorable review of it and hearing the so-sweet single “Float On.” The “shoulda-hadda-V8” part of this story is that I continued to read reviews after I bought the album. “Why not just listen to the album you bought and form your own opinions about it rather than performing a lobotomy of personal taste by reading reviews, Dave?” I don’t know, Personality #4, I really don’t know—except that I’m an addict.

There is a happy ending to this story, though it gets worse before it gets better. I have yet to read a review of Good News that is both positive towards the album (as it should be; it’s a good album) and well written. There are some reviews that are proficient enough, but none that are truly interesting or perceptive. Barry Walters, the reviewer from Rolling Stone, actually ended his review (after giving some vaguely accurate but hardly insightful song summaries) with this gem: “As other bands grow old rather than grow up, Modest Mouse have finally found the big cheese.” What? Excuse me, Barry, but what the hell is that supposed to mean?

But I mentioned a happy ending, and its time has come. To exorcise my own demons for reading too many reviews—and because of the disappointment I have found in the reviews of Good News—I have decided to use my plot of the music journalism landscape to make up for the strip malls of puns that others have constructed upon theirs. Ladies, gentleman, voices in my head, I present my penance: a short evaluation that hopefully does a little bit of justice to the new Modest Mouse album, Good News for People Who Love Bad News.

Modest Mouse is a relatively new taste for me. I bought their 2000 masterpiece (whatever that is supposed to mean; stupid reviews) The Moon & Antarctica in December, and I still listen to it frequently. I am not familiar with older Modest Mouse, but I know that their more recent stuff is layered and rhythmically driven indie rock, with grooves that ebb and flow and are often punctuated by loud, barky choruses. It’s stuff that’s good to listen to on headphones. Also, the lyrics are blunt (and never more blunt than on Good News) confrontations with God, existence, time, materialism, and other deep stuff. They also have cool song titles—a weakness of mine—like “The Good Times Are Killing Me” and “Bury Me With It.”

The biggest problem most critics seem to have with Good News is that it fails to one-up the epic statement that was The Moon & Antarctica. However, this comparison denies the fact that Good News has some really good songs, especially “Float On.” What helps me in comparing the two albums is to think about them both as girls. The Moon & Antarctica might be the supermodel that is smart and also happens to have a great sense of humor, but Good News is the more down-to-earth of the two. She’s the one I think I end up having the relationship with, and I think that relationship ends up being like Rob and Laura’s relationship in High Fidelity. In Rob’s words, “It wasn’t spectacular. It was just…good. But very good.”