Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock is probably the most unassuming hero in modern rock, an idea he wouldn’t scoff at but would more than likely shrug off in silent bewilderment.

The band has been “famous” among “those in the know” for over a decade now but only broke into the mainstream a couple of years back, with Good News For People Who Love Bad News. Thrust into the unlikely role of indie-rock gods, the quintet entered into the recording process for their most recent effort, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, with considerably more pressure to produce big results. So how did Brock and company deal? Simply and elegantly: They rose above it. Though lacking the conceptual organization of Good News, the new album offers up just as many if not more songs chock full of quirky instrumentation, infectious rhythms, and Brock’s somber yet not depressing lyrics. There’s a lot of seafaring imagery — water, boats, and even salty personalities: “Our ideas held no water, but we used ‘em like dams” and “The windshield was broken, but I love the fresh air, you know.” He still sounds like a well-read but weathered and world-weary traveler.

The opening track, “March into the Sea,” straddles the line of pop immediacy and circus waltz lunacy, with Brock taking a McCartney-esque approach to the vocals, going from soft and sincere one moment to frothing-at-the-mouth and angry the next. The first single, “Dashboard,” is perhaps stronger, dancier, and even catchier than “Float On,” the band’s 2004 radio hit, and better still, it never feels contrived or commercially crafted. The addition of former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, making the band a sextet, has enhanced the proceedings in the best way. His trademark bubbly fretwork is detectable but in no way takes away from the band’s kooky, melodic timbre. Though Brock may chafe at the thought, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank may be one of the most potent and poignant modern rock releases of the past couple of years. In a country where we’re inundated with over-exaggerating, black-eyeliner-wearing sad sacks such as My Chemical Romance and Panic! At The Disco, who among us has time for a songwriter who dresses like an average joe and smokes too much while spouting not-too-sophisticated poetry about the way things really are? And in a voice that’s strange, has a slight lisp, and seems borderline emphysemic? Nice guys finish last, as they say, or at least normal ones do. And Brock is probably way cool with that.-Joshua Loewen


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