Issaquah, Wash’s Modest Mouse work a fractured, noisy terrain that borrows heavily from the Pixies and Pavement — but don’t mistake them for just another small-town band jumping on the indie-rock train too late. On its second full-length, the trio uses anxious guitars and loping, lazy beats as the launching point for a richly sprawling sound that incorporates everything from aggro-punk to countrified guitar jams to Talking Heads-style art-funk grooves.
Singer/guitarist Isaac Brock is obsessed with the creeping of suburbia into the last rustic regions of the American West. His songs are full of seedy characters who live at the edge of this shrinking frontier — truck drivers, mobile-home dwellers, Greyhound bus travelers and even a mean old gambler named Cowboy Dan who gets drunk and tries to shoot God out of the sky with his rifle. In “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine,” Brock bitterly rhapsodizes about a day when nature will take back the ‘burbs for good: “The malls are the soon-to-be ghost towns/So long, farewell, goodbye.” And in “Trailer Trash,” his vengeful rasp turns almost tender as he contemplates a life hemmed in by bad luck and bad decisions: “Short love with a long divorce/And a couple of kids, of course.”
It’s a barsh, romantic vision of the West, closer to a Richard Ford story than to the self-referential musings of most indie rockers. And at a time when American guitar rock is so desperately lacking imagination, the feisty songs of The Lonesome Crowded West are a sign that some real vitality can still be squeezed from the post-punk mold.