The four years that passed between Modest Mouse's 2000 album The Moon and Antarctica and its new opus, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, were an eternity. Gone is the world-weary anxiety that girded The Moon ... like a vicious, inescapable undertow; in its place is leader Isaac Brock's willfully contented maturity, an optimism brought to bear through the new album's reflexive title and its bright, country pop sound.
This isn't so much a sea change as a clearing of the cobwebs that were slowly collecting around the band. Brock's recycled riffs (each of the group's albums has a song that hearkens back to "Dramamine") have been replaced by a dynamic potpourri of guitar, fiddle, and other strings, and the rhythms, once limited to postrock discordance, are now freewheeling and buoyant. Apparently producer Dennis Herring (Camper van Beethoven) left his impression on Modest Mouse, along with the country, folk, and blues sounds it was consuming (an influence that first appeared on Brock's Ugly Casanova side project). The expanded repertoire allows the band more opportunity to embrace Brock's inner Captain Beefheart, vocally stuttering through the free verse of "Blame It on the Tetons," then openly laughing on "This Devil's Workday," his enthusiasm having gotten the best of him.
Brock's role as indie-rock trickster sounds more genuine on Good People Who Love Bad News, but the album's lack of intensity -- save for the rockist excursion "Black Cadillacs" -- may sound foreign to his fans. There is the macabre dance "This Devil's Workday," where he taunts, "All those people that you know/Floating in the river are gone," but the beat floats on a Dirty Dozen Brass Band jam. "Bukowski" is a typical rumination by Brock on assholes, but it's backed by pure New Orleans swing, courtesy of multi-instrumentalists Dann Gallucci and Eric Judy.
Modest Mouse's evolution from Pacific Northwest meanderers to punky Americana advocates doesn't feel complete. Like so many indie-rock bands who find themselves in the midst of a career-changing evolution, Good People Who Love Bad News seems a little lost, enraptured by the reverie of a newly discovered musical world. But one can't begrudge another man's happiness, even if the result is a recording less angry than the one before it.