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Modest Mouse 

Good News for People Who Love Bad News (Epic)

Modest Mouse's first full-length album in four years begins with a tease: "Horn Intro," a nine-second blast of bewildering brass. Is the band responding to the critical acclaim for 2000's The Moon & Antarctica by shelving the guitars in favor of Kid A-style jazz freakouts? If so, why is "Horn Intro" so inexplicably damn funny, as if a New Orleans funeral procession marched into the studio by mistake, and Isaac Brock just said, "What the hell?"

Fear not. The first two songs resolve any doubts: Good News for People Who Love Bad News is, triumphantly, a classic Modest Mouse album. "The World at Large" opens simply, a basic chord progression strummed gently on electric guitar, then slowly builds layer upon layer of gorgeous sound -- percussion, mellotron, even a whistle -- while Brock sings of the passage of time and the need to keep moving across the lonesome, crowded West: "The days get longer and the nights smell green/I guess it's not surprising but it's spring and I should leave." This fades into the drunken-sing-along "Float On," a perfect absurdist pop song in the tradition of Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" and a showcase for new drummer Benjamin Weikel.

As for the New Orleans funeral procession, it's present in spirit. Death haunts these songs. "Ocean Breathes Salty" pointedly asks, "You wasted life, why wouldn't you waste the afterlife?", a poet's ghost hangs around "Bukowski," and even the uptempo "Black Cadillacs" gets its title from an ominous image: "clouds that just hung around/like black Cadillacs outside a funeral." But like the stately brass following the casket, Modest Mouse is able to find beauty, grace and even humor in death's long shadow.

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