We’re the Sexiest of All Primates!

Like many people, I have many favorite bands that come into and out of prominence over time.  I’m not shy about blasting my opinions about these bands online, so many of you are probably at least slightly tuned into my current obsessions. There are some bands that have what I would call themes; they don’t just write songs, but their entire body of work represents a specific worldview or thought process; others bands just sort of write songs.  I like plenty of both kinds of bands.  For instance, I love My Morning Jacket, and while I could say quite a bit about their musical themes, I’d be hard pressed to make a statement about what the whole of their songs say about a specific worldview.


My favorite band, Hey Rosetta!, has a very distinct worldview that is expressed in nearly every song: they believe in the lifting-up of humanity–of rising above our base and dreadful selves into a state of grace, be it secular or otherwise.  I believe in this worldview and embrace it.  I’m an unashamed atheist and I don’t think this concept is anathema to atheism; joy, redemption, and existential victory are just as (if not more) possible secularly as they are with religion.  As such, the content of the songs of Hey Rosetta! speak to me greatly.


However, there is a flip side, and that side is Modest Mouse.  Modest Mouse also has a worldview, and I believe in theirs, too, despite how different it is from Hey Rosetta!’s.  Modest Mouse’s worldview is that the world is a painful, pointless collection of atoms; we spring into existence and consciousness by accident and then after a short time, we stop existing.  Their music explores what it’s like to be trying to make sense of the damned mess during the brief period that your carbon gains awareness.  I find this worldview to be unassailably true; however, when coupled with Hey Rosetta’s philosophy, it meshes into my own cohesive idea of the world: we’ve sprung from nothing and we end up as nothing, but it can be beautiful and inspiring while you’re here.


Modest Mouse (which nowadays really just means Isaac Brock, the main lyricist and songwriter) have just released an album that I think could not possibly better encapsulate their theme.  The album, Strangers to Ourselves, digs deep into not just the whole “everything is pointless” concept but examines more closely American problems like urban sprawl, screen addiction, gun control, anhedonia, climate change;  the things that serve to separate us from our experiences, rob us of our individuality, and kill us early–in a universe where there are no second chances. The music on the album is completely immersive: huge, sweeping, danceable yet dirty, like Death come to visit for a playdate, or like a syphilitic disco ball.


But the real accomplishment here are the words. Isaac Brock has always written wholly unique lyrics; only a man with such a sideways twist on conventional rock lyrics could successfully tackle the topics he has (I hesitate to say he is the best current rock lyricist; I don’t know who is but their name probably rhymes with Gibbard).  But on Strangers to Ourselves, Brock’s goal has finally become crystalline, his thesis fully formed.  This album is his doctoral dissertation.  And like any great work of art, it is so bold and cunning that the flashes of brilliance are accompanied by other moments that seem daft or even silly.  This is the nature of a rock and roll record that aims, ultimately, to tell us big truths about the entire universe. Here now, a selection of some of my favorite (or more interesting) lyrics from Modest Mouse’s Strangers to Ourselves:


“Well the Earth doesn’t care, and we hardly even matter–we’re just a bit more piss to push out its full bladder.  And as our bodies break down into all their rocky little bits, piled up under mountains of dirt and silt: still the world, it don’t give a shit!”


“How lucky we are, that we are so easy to forget.”


“Well fear makes us really, really run around.”


“Pack up again, head to the next place, where we’ll make the same mistakes.  Burn it up or just chop it down; this one’s done, so where to now?”


“The world’s an inventor and we’re the dirtiest thing it’s thought about, and we really don’t mind.”


“This rock of ours is just some big mistake and we will never know just where we go or where we have came from.  These veins of mine are now some sort of fuse and when they light up and my mind blows up my heart is amused.  So this heart of mine is just some sort of map that doesn’t care at all or worry about where the hell you’re at, but you’re right there.”


“We don’t belong here, we were just born here.”


“We get dressed as ghosts with sheets taken from the bed, inside our socks we hide Traveler’s Checks, we are tourists of the dead.  So let’s pack up, let’s go!


“Pack a lunch, wander ’round, toss the map on the ground, it is inaccurate anyway.  We’ve been getting away (we’ve been getting away), we are strangers to ourselves.  We sneak out, drip-by-drip, through papercuts on our hands.  Day by day, nothing’s quite the same, we are tourists in our own heads.”


“These Western concerns: hold my place in line while I take your turn.


“We all led the charge, till we ran aground in our party barge, and every little gift was just one more part of their grift.  Oh yeah we know it.  The best news that we got was just some dumb hokum we’d all bought.  Let’s go reckless feeling great, we’re the sexist of all primates, let’s let loose with our charms, shake our ass and wave our arms, all going apeshit!”

One Response to “We’re the Sexiest of All Primates!”

  1. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    I totally get the two opposites completely making sense. You wrote about it perfectly, “…we’ve sprung from nothing and we end up as nothing, but it can be beautiful and inspiring while you’re here.”. It’s kinda like a healthier version of yo-yo dieting. I can understand being way serious and passionate about oats and veggies and supplements, and then I can totally get behind a 3 egg, lots of pork, side of crackers, pound of cheese, washed down with a milkshake breakfast. Years ago I went through a very prominent phase of only listening to Bob Marley or Alice in Chains. I think creative types live for extremes at both ends of the spectrum. It makes us feel artsy and therefore “hip” and “more likely to have intercourse”.

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