Throwback Thursday Review: The Moon & Antarctica | Modest Mouse


“The universe is shaped exactly like the earth/ If you keep on going straight, you’ll end up where you were.” This quote from opening song ‘3rd Planet’ sums up the theme of The Moon and Antarctica; the world is going to end soon. In this song, people are quitting their day to day jobs, packing up their belongings, and preparing to head out to a “3rd planet”. This 3rd planet could be a heaven or purgatory of sorts. Perhaps it is a void of nothingness known as death. Whatever it is though, it’s coming, and people are anticipating it greatly.

Of course, there are people on this earth who are depressed of this terrifying world and it’s atrocities; excessive advertising, global warming, corrupt politicians, and a nagging sense of meaninglessness. In ‘Gravity Rides Everything’, we are reminded that everything will fall into place, as gravity will take care of it all. Fruit drops off of trees, flesh sags with the passing of time, and eventually, people will drop to the ground dead and decompose. While some believe that our bodies will float up to the heavens when we die, others believe that they will just succumb to a dark void.

Modest Mouse has always been a pessimistic band of punks from Issaquah, Washington, playing away at their instruments while Isaac Brock’s carny bark speaks sarcastically of the emptiness of humanity and their man­made empires. However, they haven’t been fearful of anything in particular until this album. ‘Tiny Cities Full of Ashes’ is a paranoid take on their rants against excess consumerism leering into your soul at what seems to be all times. Also, ‘A Different City’ tackles isolation amongst the charred remains of a city of influenza, where your only friend is a color screen TV and ties from your friends and family have been cut off. A barrage of guitar, drum, tape loops, and vocal effects put forth a sense of despair and fear of the unknown. The world may be messed up and frightening, but it’s demise may be even more unsettling. It seems as if there are only 3 places where people can take refuge in, the Moon, Antarctica, and if one is religious, an afterlife.

‘The Cold Part’ is a talk with one’s internal despair. With the weight of the world and meaninglessness crushing down upon a person, they might be tempted to end it all. The devil of your own despair is laughing at you, but you don’t want to give in as uncertainty fucks with your mind. But in ‘The Stars are Projectors’, we are once more reminded of the small world that we inhabit, as it gradually crumbles in front of our very eyes. A tornado of violins, cellos, echoes, pings, voices, percussion, bent guitar strings, electronic glitches, and emptiness consume the world as we know it. You could try to care that the world is ending, but your stagnant despair is too overpowering for you to care.

At least the Pink Floyd­ esque ‘Paper Thin Walls’ sounds deceptively happy. It sounds light and energetic while still being dragged down by the inevitable. I came as a Rat talks about the value of humanity amongst all living things. Maybe everyone is the same. We all age, walk, sleep, eat, shit, and live. We also all have to face the reality that we will die someday, as all of those fairy tales of internal life and infinite youth are after all lies. Lives is reminiscent of a mass before a funeral, except the funeral is for humanity. Everyone reflects upon the lives they lived with a realization that whether they were wonderful or disappointing, that they meant something. It’s a struggle between figuring out if life goes by too fast or if it goes by too slow.

‘Life Like Weeds’ is our final thoughts and moments on earth as it is about to end. It’s sort of like the ending scene of the anime Angel Beats!, a quiet high school graduation that goes on like any other graduation, except instead of people getting a diploma, they just die. However, they die because they are in a purgatory and cannot escape unless they have excepted their life. However, in the case of The Moon and Antarctica, they are forced to except it. The problem is that you may not really want to die. What ‘Everything is Made Of’ is the final battle cry against the world ending. Isaac Brock is screaming at the top of his lungs, trying to hold on to life with everything that he has. I guess this is how the world ends.

There has not been a recent reissue of The Moon and Antarctica (aside from the inferior 2005 remix), but this album is a timeless masterpiece, so a review is appropriate to express the power of this album. It is a gamble between life and death in the face of the end of the world, and Modest Mouse has pursued this theme so well that it stands as one of the greatest albums released in the 2000s thus far.




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