mteerie2020.JPG
crappy photo by me
Mount Eerie

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

20/20 Cycle

Pitchfork Classic: Modest Mouse - The Lonesome Crowded West

Monday, June 18th, 2012

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Mount Eerie, Modest Mouse, and The Sense of Place in Pacific NW Indie Rock

mteerie2020.JPG
crappy photo by me
Mount Eerie

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

20/20 Cycle

Pitchfork Classic: Modest Mouse - The Lonesome Crowded West

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Pitchfork

Last night, Mount Eerie played a pair of shows at Central District bike shop 20/20 Cycle. Each was limited to 60 attendees, and the intimate vibe at the early show, with kids sitting cross-legged on the floor, for me recalled Microphones and Mount Eerie shows long past, in Olympia and Seattle and elsewhere. Backed by a band comprising members of opening bands Motorbikes and Hungry Cloud Darkening, Phil Elverum sang songs off his two new albums Clear Moon and Ocean Roar. The songs thundered and roared, with peals of guitar and crashing cymbals, then softened into murmurs, while a smoke machine clouded the room, turning the daylight from outside yellow. The new songs centered on Elverum's typically introspective, existential concerns, and, like much of his work, they had a lot to do with a particularly Pacific Northwest sense of place: the town of Anacortes, the woods and waters that surround it, his house in the middle of it. Not for nothing is his band named after the town's most striking geological feature or songs on his new album called "House Shape" and "The Place I Live."

I was thinking about sense of place earlier this week, thanks to Pitchfork's new mini-documentary about Modest Mouse's The Lonesome Crowded West, their indie masterpiece of road-weariness and suburban (specifically Eastside) ennui.

The documentary is a no-shit reminder of what an amazing album that is, and also of how livewire the band's early shows were, full of crazy rhythms, drunk addled jamming, and unpredictable outbursts and segues. (Some people will say those shows were just sloppy, but every Modest Mouse show I've seen since about 2005 has just been merely, disappointingly professional.) I never thought about it, but the songs' vaunted quiet/loud dynamics make for a structural metaphor for their lyrics: the loud, ugly city always violently encroaching on the quiet, pretty country.

(I also probably only think of this because I read some thing about it being Rousseau's 300th birthday this month, but how perfect a Rousseauian view of man in the state of nature is the pretty, peaceufl passage from "Cowboy Dan": "standing in the tall grass/thinking nothing." Of course, dude gets Hobbesian pretty quick after that, but give him his moment.)

So Modest Mouse and Mount Eerie both make (or have made) music suffused with a sense of place for the Northwest--but Modest Mouse's is dystopian, while Mount Eerie's is something more like pastoral. Not that both don't veer into the other's terrain: A Modest Mouse song like "Summer" perfectly highlights the too-precious silver lining to Seattle's long, gray clouds--"just the smell of the Summer can make me fall in love"--while several of Elverum's later Mount Eerie works loom with darkness and timid dread as much as they abound with open-eyed wonder.

And while there are suburbs and small towns and cities, wilderness and endangered rural areas everywhere, I feel particularly lucky to know some of what these guys are singing about first-hand--and not just because it also means having seen them play such a variety of shows over the years. As much as these works are about universal concerns--life-and-death existentialism, uneasiness with the modern world--they're also so specifically about the places they come from. Ask some people what music represents Seattle or the NW, and they'll say Nirvana, grunge, maybe Jimi Hendrix--for me, you can't get anything that sounds more like home, for good and ill, than these guys.

 
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