Monday, December 08, 2008

"Gravity Rides Everything" / Modest Mouse

Why haven't I written about Modest Mouse before? Probably for the same reason that I still haven't downloaded We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Every time I hear one of their songs, I think to myself, "I really like this band; these guys are seriously good." And yet, somehow, they haven't become One of My Bands. It's a mysterious process, why you take one band to your heart and not another.

And yet, and yet . . . I do love this song. Those weird distorted throbbing sound waves of the opening (just a guitar and bongos played backwards, no?) -- they sound so "modern," but in a retro Sputnik way, and right from the start I'm feeling disoriented and jumpy. Then Isaac Brock's vocals slide in over a tense strumming acoustic guitar, like a landing jet: "Ohhhhhhhhhhhh / Gotta see, gotta know right now." Yep, we are stockpiling anxiety already, and his distinctive flat quaver expresses it perfectly. "What's that riding on your everything?" he asks, edgily, then reassures himself in a sort of kneejerk singsong: "It isn't anything at all." But he isn't really comforted; immediately he swoops back into "Ohhhhhhhh / Gotta see, gotta know right now."

Don't expect narrative, or concrete desciption, but if what you want is postmodern moodiness, well they've got that in spades. He goes on queruously, "What's that riding on your shelf / In the bathrooms / And the bad motels?" Strictly speaking, this means nothing, but it's all code for rootlessness and impermanence. "No one really cared for it at all, " he adds, "Not the gravity plan." What in the hell is a gravity plan?

Well, that's where the second verse comes in. The guitar part turns jangly electric and more insistent as he continues, "Early / Early in the morning / It pulls all on down my sore feet / I wanna go back to sleep." Whatever this "It" is, he sure doesn't want to face it. And now we finally see the bad relationship, or at any rate the not-working-out relationship: "In the motions and the things that you say / 'It all will fall, / Fall right into place.'" (I love how he double-tracks the vocals to mimic her talking.) I can just see this woman, in a groggy sort of slow-mo scene, gesticulating, and the suck of inevitability pulling him further into this liaison. Then undertow of panic and helplessness starts to overwhelm him, because this is the "gravity plan" -- "As fruit drops, flesh it sags," he warily describes it. Swiftly, the singsongy doubled vocals chime in, "'Everything will fall/Fall right into place.'" As if that's a good thing.

To me, this is the epitome of indie rock. It's absolutely saturated with neurosis, fear of commitment, emotional ambivalence, obsession with death and decay, the whole nine yards. The lyrics are cryptic, and don't even rhyme. But that hypnotic rhythm, with its odd syncopations and harsh sonic textures, tells you more than the lyrics about how trapped this guy feels. It has nothing to do with relating to the situation; I hear this song and for four minutes and twenty seconds, I too feel weirded out and longing to escape from a sterile entanglement. And then the song's over and I go back to being me. Now there's musical magic for you.

Gravity Rides Everything sample

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