Arcade Fire vs. Modest Mouse, the final countdown.

I got the idea to write this thing over the weekend when I realized that there are gonna be some amazing new albums coming my way this year. Then I remembered, two pretty amazing groups have already dropped follow-ups to Major Label Debuts and I've said nary a word on the matter.

They've been heard, and I'm trying to go at this with an open and objective mind, so that's why I came away underwhelmed after initial listens to the new records by Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse. More bluntly, I thought the Arcade Fire album had maybe one or two functional songs immersed in a goulash of diarrhea; and I thought the Modest Mouse album started strong, but quickly dissolved into chaotic boredom. Then I sat down, over the last two days, and gave each album a proper close-listen. With a pad of paper, a pen, and notes written for each song. Those notes will be italicized in the following.

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

First and foremost, when you're talking about Arcade Fire, you can't compare them to anything else out there, because they don't sound like anything else out there (the closest you could say would be The Decemberists, but I'm not touching that one right now). So, when you compare a new Arcade Fire album, there's only one thing you can compare it to: "Funeral", the debut.

Which is hardly fair, because Funeral was a fucking masterpiece. It really and truly is; it's original sounding, it's impassioned, the great songs are super-fantastic, and the not-so-great songs are still better than most of the crap you'll hear, even from bands that I enjoy. Take any random Arcade Fire album track from Funeral and compare it to a random Strokes album track, Interpol, Wolfmother, White Stripes, there's just no contest.

So, of course Neon Bible isn't going to measure up. But, saying Neon Bible is a crappy Arcade Fire album is still saying that it's better than probably 65% of the other new albums out there. And who knows, it could grow on me to the point where it cracks my Top 10 of 2007; but it's early, so let's stay away from that.

With that in mind, I didn't have a whole lot to say about this album, which doesn't bode well because I wrote three times as much for the Modest Mouse album - admittedly, grew on me quicker than I'd anticipated.

{{{Now, before I go on, let me explain to you my ranking system for individual songs - this is how I know the great ones from the good ones from the ordinary ones, in case I'm not acutely aware of what the song sounds like; it's necessary when you have 25,000 mp3s. This is a tilda: ~. Garnering two tildas ~~ means your song is awesome, the bee's knees. The solo-tilda means it's good, but something's lacking about the song. There are only two cases in my entire arsenal where the norm is deviated: one song has an accidental ! along with the ~~ that I never bothered to correct; the other song is by Aphex Twin, which received the unheard of ~~~. OK, back to the review}}}

Black Mirror (~). This song had me hooked. It felt exactly like old times, like it was plucked from the Funeral sessions. Everything sounds perfect, until the line: "Mirror mirror, on the wall / Show me where their bombs will fall". Now, I know I don't normally pay such attention to lyrics, but this one is just too bad to let fly. I can see now the tone of this album: pompous, like they can say anything and think that they'll get away with it because they're Arcade Fire.

Keep The Car Running (~). It's good, full of energy and pep, but there's something lacking. That something that makes it not as good as the album prior.

Neon Bible. The namesake, slow, plodding, repetitive, nothing much to it. Mood music at best.

Intervention (~). Organy. Picks up steam, tho. Nevertheless, a one-tilda special.

Black Wave/Bad Vibrations (~~). Now we're talking! A split-song, girl first, then guy sings. This is that IT factor at play. Unique, impactful sound. Here's something I noticed: it's highway robbery how Arcade Fire doesn't take advantage of the female vocalist in the group. Her voice is absolutely breathtaking, and if you don't believe me, listen to the closing song on Funeral (In The Back Seat), where she's the sole voice. It absolutely cannot be denied, I lose my God damned mind when I hear her sing.

Ocean of Noise. And here we are again, slow and boring. Lifeless.

The Well and the Lighthouse (~). High energy, steady pace, still waiting for that orgasmic Arcade Fire moment ... and instead I get a half-tempo closing 90 seconds. A reluctant one-tilda.

(Antichrist Television Blues) (~). I don't know, I just have this Groundhog Day vibe going. We're just going through the motions. Again, a regrettable one-tilda.

Windowsill. Nice build up, no payoff, trite lyrics.

No Cars Go (~). Good, not amazing, lyrics still lacking.

My Body Is A Cage (~~). Bombastic ending, different; an orgy for the ears.

So, there you have it. Two ~~ songs, Six ~ songs, three truly forgettable songs. Like I said, it's unfair to call this a failure, because if you told me some random album has 11 songs, 8 worthy of at least one tilda, I'd tell you that's an exceptional album and I can't wait to listen. But, I dunno, I guess I hold Arcade Fire to a higher standard. On Funeral, I'd say 5-6 out of 10 songs have ~~, and the rest have at least ~ or are close to ~. That's the way it goes. But, you know, it could grow on me. I'll give it time.

Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank

Let it be known that I'm one of the biggest Modest Mouse apologists the world has ever seen (my essay on why it was proper for them to have their song used in that Nissan Quest commercial standing front and center), even though I'm nowhere near their biggest fan. I wasn't one of those people there from the beginning, I didn't start listening to them until late in my college career, with "The Moon & Antarctica". I've since listened to (and own) all of their albums, and I've seen them live twice (though, to be fair, both times occurred after their Float On smashy smash). Still, I think I'm an eager enough judge of their abilities, so give me a fuckin' break.

March Into The Sea (~~). Awesome! Amazing Start. Things are looking even better than before, if that's possible.

Dashboard (~~). O em gee. Dashboard gets better with every listen. Looking like a classic album. When I first heard this song, I thought they'd lost their minds. Now, I can't get enough of it. For a two-song run, these might showcase Modest Mouse at their best.

Fire It Up. And then you get to Fire It Up and I want to pull my hair out. Annoying chorus, annoying slow tempo. Just bad, ordinary album-track. Though, repeated listenings make me want to kill it less. Above-par guitar work, nice sounding. I hate songs that get stuck in my head like this. There may be more lyrics to it, but as far as I'm concerned, the only three words Isaac Brock sings are Fire, It, and Up.

Florida. The first of three songs with the Shins lead singer adding back-up accompaniment. Also, the first of three songs with the Shins lead singer that totally suck balls from sacks. Florida has this Very 80s feel ... like this is the sell-out screaming to break free. Very mainstream, losing my sense of Modest Mouseness ... but not terrible. However, with Modest Mouse, I need more than Not Terrible.

Parting of the Sensory (~~). Starts off smooth and somewhat delicate, but it's deceptive ... wait for it ... wait for it ... Because with 100 seconds left, it fucks you OVER! So far, looking like an all-or-nothing MM album.

Missed the Boat. Number two song featuring Shins lead singer on backup. See, and then we get this faggy (I tried to use a different word, I really did) little number ... Isaac singing in three-part harmony? When did this become the Damn Yankees? OK, so I now know it wasn't Isaac dubbing his own voice over himself, but are you noticing a pattern? Every song with that insufferable Shins singer sounds all-too-80s in nature. The Shins blow, hate them with me please.

We've Got Everything. Final song with the Shins singer, and worst by FAR. Oh, OK! Now you see why I wrote this! We've Got Everything is straight out of a John Hughes movie. It sounds like it should be accompanied by a dancing animal costume man. Just a terrible concept for a song from start to finish. Complete with female backing singers, synths, poppy drums, and jangly guitars. God. I. Hate. This. Song. Yes, they've got everything, and now you can throw Crap on the list.

Fly Trapped In A Jar (~~). OK, but we're making an extra solid return from horror with this. Like 2 halves of a song smashed together, but both are 2-tilda efforts. Excellent recovery.

Education (~). Interesting guitar work. Enjoying the vocals, good energy. Nice heartbeat pacing.

Little Motel. Might just be the most mellow song MM has ever created. It's nice, though. Not nearly as annoyingly repetitive as some of the others. And, a top-notch guitar solo. I'm enjoying the add already. Almost like Tom Morello if he ever did a ballad solo. If he ever did a ballad. The add here that I'm talking about is ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. I don't know if it's actually him doing the solo, but whoever it is, kudos.

Steam Engenius (~). Is just a fun, weirdo song. Cacophony of noises and woo hoos.

Spitting Venom (~~). The Long Song. Starts out pretty exciting like we're in for a kickass 8-some minutes. Then, at the halfway mark, we drop tempo, bring in the horns and the clinky things and melodize them guitars and harmonize with some crafty feedbacky noise and then kick the drums back into gear and smooth out at a steady pace as the vocals crawl into the frame and it's coming together and it's building tension and it's growing into something great, something amazing, something more than when it started as this exciting thud against my eardrums. If I were younger, I'd definitely throw this one on one of my Longs Compilations. Making reference to my penchant for making personal mixed-tapes full of songs whose only requirement was to kick ass and be over 7 minutes. The thing with the prototypical long MM song is you never know what you're getting. Could be 7 minutes of sparse nothingness, could be 7 minutes of all-out noise. But, this song is by far the most complete-sounding long MM song I've ever heard.

People as Places as People (~). Starts off as the most Modest Mouseish of any of the songs. Would fit right in with The Moon & Antarctica. "'Cause you're the people that I wanted to know. / 'Cause you're the places that I wanted to go." I like that line. Look for me to use that in the future sometime randomly and without any real meaning.

Invisible (~~). The closer. It's a rave-up! Highest energy song, quite the rocker. Also, continues MM's theme of closing out their albums with nonsense rock songs. Love it.

So, obviously there are more good songs than bad, but the bad is so glaringly bad that they can't be denied. If you took out every song associated with that incredibly terrible Shins singer, this album would be an epic 11-song tribute to excellence. And, as we all know, I'm an expert on the subject of excellence as I piss it every morning.