Artist: Modest Mouse
Release Date: June 13, 2000
Label: Epic

Modest Mouse's fourth full-length album and first major-label release, The Moon and Antarctica has been lauded by critics and hipsters both as a monumental musical work. Some see it as the most dramatic album of the confusing transition between the 90's and the twenty-first century. While some invariably saw the album as the band selling out, others received the album for what it was: a sonata of indie-pop, cohesive and unified in theme, yet allowing each song to retain its individuality and not blending together. This is what a good band is capable of when they aren't pressured for studio time, and can take their time to thoroughly compose and arrange every track.

The band uses the same basic instrumentation on this album as most other rock groups: guitars, bass, synth, drums. However, the extra production time is evident in the subtle string arrangements that highlight some dramatic movements. Another good example of this type of well-produced major-label debut is Beth Orton's Central Reservation. Neither abandon's their unique sound, the additional production is used to highlight what is already there, not paint over it.

The theme of the album is complex, but has definite uniting elements. The title alone elicits feelings of solitude and desolation. The track listing reinforces this impression with titles like Dark Center of the Universe, A Different City, and Alone Down There. Listening to the album all the way through only reinforces these ideas, and extrapolates upon them in various directions.


Tracks

  1. 3rd Planet - 3:58
    The album is started off with a simple acoustic guitar riff. It has a very sing-songy feel to it, instantly bringing nursery rhymes to mind. Once the lyrics begin though, the overcast nature of the song, and maybe the album become apparent. The chorus brings you back around through, the two obscure chords that they bash back and forth between have a rocking quality to themselves. Using typical Modest Mouse methods, they take sounds that should not sound good together and force it to make an unforgettable song. Lyrically, the song meanders in the beginning, giving an abstract idea of loss and abandonment. In the second (nursery rhymey) verse brings the feelings to a more worldwide sense, as it is almost from the perspective of Adam, exploring how the novelty of experiences affect people.

    A 3rd had just been made and we were swimming in the water
    didn't know then was it a son was it a daughter
    When it occurred to me that the animals are swimming
    around in the water in the oceans in our bodies and
    another had been found another ocean on the planet
    given that our blood is just like the Atlantic
    And how The universe is shaped exactly like the earth
    if you go straight long enough you'll end up where you were

    The last two lines of the refrain lay the groundwork for an early theme: life repeating itself. This brings to mind the fractal quality of nature (blood just like the Atlantic, Universe exactly like the Earth). Furthermore, a phrase that will be repeated later, is introduced: being fucked over.
  2. Gravity Rides Everything - 4:19
    This one starts out with sustain-pedal effects on a simple acoustic strumming pattern. The lyrics start early on with the jist of the song: Everybody ends up the same way, so why sweat the small stuff? It has the tone of an upbeat song, but with the theme of death and finality, it still fits in perfectly with the rest of the album.

    As fruit drops, flesh it sags
    Everything will fall right into place
    When we die, some sink and some lay
    But at least I don't see you float away
    And all the spilt milk, sex and weight
    It all will fall, fall right into place

    This feeling of decline and decay are accentuated by the effect of having synthed effects trickle down through octaves and various keys during the chorus.
  3. Dark Center of the Universe - 5:02
    A simple guitar plucking pattern with a string section overlay make this song sound overtly dramatic early. However, it soon drops into a complex riff pattern of electric guitars and shouted, rather than gently crooned, lyrics. The crooning lyrics repeat words of a man on the defensive, and the shouts come across as hillbilly wisdom being offered to the defensive persona. This song helps to illustrate the internal conflict of self-pity (the crooner) versus the harsh reality of our guilt-driven society. Again, this song mentions God as a major player.

    Crooning: I might disintegrate into the thin air if you like
    I'm not the dark center of the universe like you thought

    Shouting: Well, it took a lot of work to be the ass that I am
    And I'm real damn sure that anyone can, equally easily fuck you over
    Well, God said something, but didn't mean it
    Everyone's life ends, but no one ever completes it
    Dry or wet ice, they both melt and you're equally cheated

    The song's overall structure starts, finishes, and interludes with the slow parts. However, the frenetic pace of the riff and the lyrics give the song a rather disjointed, intense feeling nonetheless.
  4. Perfect Desguise - 2:41
    A lazy blues-scale riff starts this one off, with a markedly more laid back tempo and style than the previous few tracks. A mid-tempo banjo solo punctuates the end of the guitar pattern, but it just adds a flourish to the lazy tone of this song. This song is also notable for its heavy use of backing vocals, which act more like an accompanying instrument than vocal assistance. The lyrics kick in a short way through, and the theme of this song is revealed: personal betrayal. However, the betrayal isn't life changing, because the song maintains a nonchalant condescension:

    Cuz you cocked your head to shoot me down
    And I don't give a damn about you or this town no more
    No, but I know the score
    Need me to fall down, so you can climb up
    Some fool ass ladder, well good luck
    I hope, I hope there's something better up there

    The tune ends with the guitar petering out over a quietly echoing violin string.
  5. Tiny Cities Made of Ashes - 3:41
    The album takes a clear deviation from it's previous style right away with this song. A bouncy bass line, disco drums, and nearly chanted low vocals drag us along on the road trip away from the apocalypse. The tempo is urgent, and the lyrics, though seeming innocuous at first, start to get relevant when the singer off-handedly mentions that God called him and told him that hell has frozen over. The overall effect is that of a driving song, away from the familiar life, and towards the tiny cities made of ashes.
  6. A Different City - 3:08 Again, this album takes an unexpected turn with the opening riff of the J. Mascis-esque sixth track. The verse after the riff is slower, but is clearly only slowed to clear a stage for the lyrics:

    I wanna live in a city with no friends or family
    I'm gonna look out the window of my color T.V.
    I wanna remember to remember to forget you forgot me
    I'm gonna look out the window of my color T.V.

    After this part of the verse, a chorus comes in. The chorus starts a call and response form; the response has an atonal shout as backup. This helps to reinforce the feeling of rage that the fleeing protagonist maintains. After this verse-chorus structure repeats, with the grungey solo riff between them, the song ends rather abrubtly, like a four-year-old stomping off in a huff. The theme of isolation and abandonment are solidly reinstated here in this song. Also note how in the previous track, the singer was escaping to another city, and now he is exploring the newfound loneliness of a different city made of ashes.
  7. The Cold Part - 5:00
    This song gets back to the same type of sound that started the album, careful plucking of guitars over dramatic strings. The intro has a decidedly minor key, with occassional accents by guitar or violin solos, and the single theme repeated over and over between instrumental liasons:

    So long to the cold, cold part of the world.

    In the refrains, the only difference is that the "part of the world" is referred to both bone-bleached and salt-soaked as well as cold. Clearly, this part of the song is more about the repetition than the lyrical content. The music keeps the oppressive mood going steadily, painting a blue-gray sky with black rain. After two or three more refrains, the music gives the hint that the storm is breaking, and set of vocals finally drops in for an extended stay, revealing more about the song, and the album itself:

    I stepped down as president of Antarctica
    Can't blame me, don't blame me, don't...

    So the Cold Part that he is leaving is Antarctica. And what part of the world is more isolated, alone, and desolate than Antarctica? Thus the wonderful illustration that helps tie together the whole album. This song is hypnotizing.
  8. Alone Down There - 2:21
    Alone Down There starts out with a basic, if mischievous guitar pattern that has a casually sung/whispered cryptic verse over the top of it. The whispering mentions gathering flies, which easily adds to the creepiness. Once, the whisperer has finished, the guitar swells to cue in the heroic, shouting chorus:

    I don't want you to be alone down there
    To be alone down there, to be alone
    The Devil's apprentice he gave me some credit
    He fed me a line and I'll probably regret it

    The song lets up for a bit, only to plunge back into the chorus again. However, the image of Devil's apprentice, and being "alone down there" point us in the direction of going to hell to keep people company. Of course, the heroic quality of the vocals cannot be ignored, giving the singer the quality of a martyr for love's sake. After this repeated chorus, the instrumental guitars and hand-claps crscendo, as if symbolizing the heroic descent, and finally abruptly stop.
  9. The Stars are Projectors - 8:46
    This song starts off with the effects-heavy guitars and vocals. The tune is melodic, but not cheery; it has an almost eldritch tone and the echoing of the vocals only add to the unearthly effect. But once you get past that, it falls into a more familiar, simple, hokey guitar line, over the vocal refrain:

    The stars are projectors, yeah
    Projectin our minds down to this planet Earth

    This idea is epanded upon in various refrains, and then a crescendo is brought along with an increase in tempo. The philosiphizing increases to a frenzy, and stops at the epiphany::

    God is a woman and the woman is
    An animal that animals man, and that's you
    Was there a need for creation?
    That was hiden in a math equation

    The music then does it's own interpretation of discovery, devolving and changing through a number of different instrumental voices in the last movement.
  10. Wild Packs of Family Dogs - 1:45
    This song is in the form of a traditional folk song, with the sole guitar accompanied sparingly by a shaker, cow bell, and accordian. The lyrics tell about the wild pack of family dogs as a vehicle to the afterlife, not unlike the Valkeryes of norse legend. The dogs take away the narrators own dog, and then his little sister. In the final verse, the narrator's father loses his job, and ends the song with:

    And I'm sitting outside my mudlake
    waiting for the pack to take me away
    And right after I die
    the dogs start floating up towards the glowing sky
    Now they'll receive their rewards
    now they will receive their rewards

  11. Paper Thin Walls - 3:01
    This song starts as a more upbeat, jaunty tone. Immediatly, the listener can sense the theme of the lack of privacy in urban life. The point of view is revealed as that of a recently relocated rural resident. But after all this complaining about the city lifestyle, he reveals his bitter attitude to those who mock him: Laugh hard, it's a long ways to the bank. Despite this, you can still pick up on a slight regret. He does, miss his former routine, but he'll be damned if he goes back. This further reinforces the theme of isolation, even in a crowded setting.
  12. I Came as a Rat - 3:48
    This songs starts out with a fast pace, with a constant lyrical pace, presenting you with a description of a person's soul: Good intentions, but still tarnished. Then, in the chorus, the song reveals what it is actually about.

    I came as ice, I came as a whore
    I came as advice that came too short
    I came as gold, I came as crap
    I came clean and I came as a Rat
    It takes a long time, but God dies too
    But not before he'll stick it to you

    The author presents us with his impression of God. He does not see God as overbearing father, but as an judgemental older brother. However, despite this, he feels the need to "come clean," despite the consequences. Again, there is a feeling of isolation in this song, only here it is of a more spiritual sort. The instrumental exploration at the end only cements this feeling in our mind.
  13. Lives - 3:18
    This song starts out with a wandering bass line, and lyrics based on the refrain:

    Everyone's afraid of their own life
    If you could be anything you want
    I bet you'd be disappointed, am I right?

    The theme of this song is largely about living an unfulfilled life. This carpe diem tone is reinforced in the middle part of the song, where the tempo picks up and guitar strums and violin replace a walking bass: It's hard to remember... To live before you die. The bridge of the song delves into the album's overall theme, with God as a mother, and hell being one's own self-punishment. The song then finishes with the same chorus it started with, over the wandering bass, reminding you that this was all one song. Overall, it almost has a feeling of falling asleep and the middle part of the song being a cheery dream. The final chorus is waking up to your own depressing reality once again.
  14. Life Like Weeds - 6:30
    The penultimate song on the album has an almost manic depressive feel, going from jaunty romp to moaning line and back and forth. Finally, it settles into a slightly more balanced jaunt, exploring what the point of life is.

    And in the places you go, you'll see the place where you're from
    I could have told you all that I love you
    And in the faces you meet, you'll see the place where you'll die
    I could have told you all that I love you
    And on the day that you die, you'll see the people you've met
    I could have told you all that I love you
    And in the faces you see, you'll see just who you've been

    After all this realization, the song slows down. The conclusion has been reached, and the metaphor for life as a patch of weeds has been illustrated: we spend life avoiding the weeds, when that's all there is. So what's the point? Finding the one person who is there: And in this life like weeds, you're just a rock to me This line is presented at the beginning and the end of the song, demonstrating the very stability and dependability of this person; their very "rock"ness.
  15. What People Are Made Of - 2:14
    Suprisingly, the final track on this album isn't a sleeper. It starts out with a staccato guitar over drums rolling at a breakneck pace, and only lets up occasionally. The verses at first reference the dead battling at the bottom of the ocean, and the proof is the bodies floating by at the bottom of the ocean. These lyrics are nearly untelligible, being shouted over a pounding rhythm guitar and drums. However, halfway through the song, the tone of the song abruptly changes from a distortion-heavy guitar and drums to a single low-end synth playing the bass-line and minimal drums. The lyrics here are more audible, and more poignant as well:

    On the first page of the book of blue it read
    "If you read this page, than that'll be your death"
    By then it was too late
    And you wound up on an island of shells and bones that bodies had left
    And the one thing you taught me bout human beings was this

    After this small, unexpected techno interval, the song returns to it's original form to shout out the final thought of the song and the album itself:

    They ain't made of nothin but water and shit

    One more series of staccato guitar, and then the song is cut short. Fin.

So, the album is over, and it doesn't even feel like it has ended. The last song is one of the fastest, and even that didn't seem to play all the way out. In fact, now that you think of it, a lot of the songs were like that, with abrupt endings that seemed to come too soon. A big part of this album is being slightly uncomfortable. The songs are somewhat poppy, but clearly not radio-friendly. The whole thing elicits a feeling not unlike visiting an old friend who you have grown apart from. During the visit, it is slightly awkward and uncomfortable, but in retrospect it is a great time. This album is exactly like that friend, only you can listen to this again and again, and it only gets more comfortable.

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