Bad News for People Who Love "Good News for People Who Love Bad News"

Bad News for People Who Love "Good News for People Who Love Bad News"
Images via Bondi Records/Getty Images

If you know me well, or even if you don't but you've read my writing or follow me on Twitter, you might be surprised to learn that Modest Mouse was akin to a bargain-bin buzzband for me in my earliest years of following them: I liked the singles from their 2000s albums, and that's about it. They didn't become my favorite band until I dove into their '90s material (and 2000's The Moon & Antarctica) when I got to college. Years later, I wrote my first-ever piece for Stereogum, as well as my first-ever book proposal on 1997's The Lonesome Crowded West (it was rejected... if you're a literary agent, hit me up!). I still deeply love a large portion of Modest Mouse's music.

But with their commercial high-water mark, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, turning 20 next week, and with an "expanded edition" recently announced, I feel the need to unburden myself of something I've held in for too long: I can't stand the direction that Modest Mouse went on this and every ensuing album.

The first Modest Mouse song I liked was "Float On." This is probably very common among people my age and younger, and probably not all that uncommon among people 5-10 years older than me, despite the fact that the band had been releasing music for over a decade when that breakout single dropped in March 2004. I was just about to turn 13, deep in the throes of my first (and last) radio station obsession, tuning into 107.7 The End on every bus ride to and from school on my black-and-neon-green Walkman CD player with AM/FM capabilities. The song was catchy. Other kids talked about it at school. That's all I remember liking about it.

The first Modest Mouse song I loved was "Ocean Breathes Salty." The second single from the same album, it didn't hit radio until late August 2004 (presumably delayed to give "Float On" time to bask in its unexpected shine, go 5x platinum, reach #1 on the Alternative chart, and break into the Top 10 of the Adult Alternative chart, which meant that even my mom's favored radio station, 103.7 The Mountain, was playing it). I don't remember when I got sick of "Float On," but it might have coincided with "Ocean Breathes Salty" providing me a newer, better Modest Mouse song. I bought that MP3, I burnt it onto a CD, I air guitared to it, I—shit you not—requested it at a middle school dance (successfully!).

I burned one other song from Good News for People Who Love Bad News, "The World At Large," onto some other mix CD, and then I pretty much checked out on Modest Mouse until their next album came out. I never owned GNFPWLBN (god, that's a terrible acronym) on CD, but I did buy 2007's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank soon after its release. I doubt I listened to it front-to-back more than three times. "Missed The Boat" stuck; nothing else did. Soon thereafter, I got my first iPod Classic and finally had room for hundreds of full albums, so I ripped Good News... (yeah, I'm going with that over the acronym) onto it from a friend's computer. I doubt I listened to it front-to-back more than three times. "The View" was the only other song that stuck.

When I listen back to Good News... now, I'm shocked at my teenage self's discerning taste. I enjoyed plenty of terrible music at the time (Gym Class Heroes, anyone? Kaiser Chiefs??) but the Modest Mouse songs that appealed to me were the only ones on the album that sound like they could've been on previous Modest Mouse albums, though I didn't know that at the time. "Ocean Breathes Salty" is a little shogaze-ier than anything they'd done before, thanks to the zero-gravity drumming, but it's the only song on Good News... that features the iconically weepy guitar tone that frontman Isaac Brock had made his calling card. "The World At Large," like "Dramamine" and "3rd Planet," continues the tradition of kicking off an album with one of its gentlest songs. "The View" might owe something to the early 2000s' nascent dance-punk sound, but ModMou had previously flirted with similar boogies on "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" and "Doin' The Cockroach." (I'm not even considering "Float On" here because regardless of how it sounds, it was so played-to-death that I wouldn't want to hear it today even if it sounded like a sequel to "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine.")

The other two-thirds of Good News... embark into territory that was almost wholly unexplored by pre-2004 Modest Mouse across a varied discography littered with alternate versions, EPs, single-only releases, and live recordings. The beginning of the album is a total fake-out, with three of the four previously mentioned songs slotted as its first full (read: longer than 13 seconds) tracks. Even "Bury Me With It," moving chronologically down the tracklist, isn't that much of a departure—a little talkier and skronkier, sure, but the post-chorus is a clear return to the familiar. It's the next track, "Dance Hall," that bores a hole into the album's hull.

Though it has a clear predecessor in 1996's god-awful "All Night Diner," this belligerent two-step bets the house on xylophone, marching snare, the drunkest-sounding Brock vocal to date (which is saying something), and riffs that imagine The Jesus Lizard writing a Creedence Clearwater Revival song. Things only fly further afield from there! The midsection of Good News... comprises "Bukowski," a dour Southern Gothic strut that reeks of a very specific mid-2000s aesthetic (sailor tats, sideburns, whiskey in mason jars, maybe a unicycle), "Devil's Workday," which is pure Tom Waits cosplay, and "Satin In a Coffin," which opens the floodgates and unleashes the pump organ, banjo, and stand-up bass. Inexplicably, "The View," which contains zero traces of any of these elements, is also sequenced smack-dab in the middle of this run.

The back third isn't quite as glaringly swampy—"Black Cadillacs" may sound like a runaway circus band and "The Good Times Are Killing Me" may be based solely on a dumb gag ("it sounds chipper but it's not!"), but "Blame It on the Tetons" is decent, showing why fiddle worked on previous Modest Mouse albums, and "One Chance" is... fine. Overall, the tracks that annoy me only slightly outnumber the ones I'm ambivalent about, which only slightly outnumber the ones that I like. Good News... isn't even in the running for "worst album I've ever heard," but it is among the hardest for me to listen to. It's the fulcrum point of a band whose prior material I find peerless suddenly teetering into a band I can't stand.

Though there don't appear to have been many hints about Modest Mouse's new direction before the album came out, it's not hard to pick out a few in retrospect. Most notably, this is their only album to date that doesn't feature god-tier drummer Jeremiah Green, who briefly left the band after a flare-up at rehearsals. According to an excellent 2004 profile, Modest Mouse almost broke up after that. Instead, they brought guitarist Dann Gallucci back into the fold for the first time since 1998 and recorded the album in Mississippi and Tennessee with producer Dennis Herring. Maybe those locales and Herring's previous work with artists like Counting Crows, Jars of Clay, and Buddy Guy point to the sound that ModMou would pursue on Good News..., but most of that info just suggests that the band were in something of a wilderness period.

If that midsection of Good News... was an outlying oddity and Modest Mouse went back to basics once Green returned, I might view it differently. Instead, it now seems like the blueprint for their next two decades. The writing was on the wall when Isaac Brock described We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank as a "nautical balalaika carnival romp" shortly before its release. I haven't spent enough time with that album, 2009's No One's First, and You're Next EP, 2015's Strangers to Ourselves, or 2021's The Golden Casket to succinctly sum up exactly what sound it is they're going for, but you only need to skim a few seconds of each track across all those releases to know that something fundamentally changed in the band ever since Good News...

In the '90s, Modest Mouse weren't averse to Americana or even country. Slide guitar, lap steel, fiddle, and banjo all popped up from time to time. The best way for me to explain the shift—and I know this sounds ridiculous, but stick with me—is via geographical terrain. The band hailed from the damp Pacific Northwest, but outside of songs about Alaskan canneries and "beach side property," their older music more often evoked arid, wide-open spaces. Angry places, but lonely ones too. Good News... brought them to the swampy Southeast, and We Were Dead... to the open ocean. Funkified blues and sea shanties followed. They were no less drunken, but now also stuck in the mud, seasick, or scurvy-ridden. Nothing is inherently wrong with these musical attributes, but aesthetically, they leave me cold (Modest Mouse's visual aesthetics also got increasingly garish, starting with the "Float On" video's cut-and-paste, A Fever You Can't Sweat Out look).

Divorced from the band's career arc, the most charitable opinion I can give Good News... is that it's their version of Outkast's Idlewild. Like ModMou, 'Kast is one of my top-five favorite artists of all time; like Good News..., Idlewild is split between songs that flirt with bygone instrumentation from the Southeastern US and ones that don't in any way, shape, or form. Even my experience with both artists is similar. In the pre-high-speed internet days of my rural childhood home, I was more familiar with Idlewild and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (released 2006 and 2004, respectively) than Outkast's more critically acclaimed early work. I found the former for $5 in the bargain bin at an FYE (I didn't learn it was the clean version until I popped into the ol' Walkman) and the latter in the CD section of my local library (I need to devote a newsletter to all of the gold I found there). As was the case with Modest Mouse, Outkast only truly became a revelatory music group for me once I had access to their back catalog.

Outkast never officially broke up, but André and Big Boi stopped releasing music under the moniker after Idlewild. Modest Mouse persists, even after original bassist Eric Judy left the band in 2012 and Jeremiah Green died (way, way, way too young) on New Year's Eve 2022. Now it's Isaac Brock and a handful of guys who had no hand in anything before Good News... A gradual loss of original members is commonplace, a gradual decline in quality even more so. Even still, Good News for People Who Love Bad News is a rare beast of an album. There are still signs of the band I love: if "Ocean Breathes Salty" was on The Moon & Antarctica, it might be my favorite song on there. But in my mind, the 2004 album is a harbinger of doom with unsavory tendrils creeping up its sides (or more accurately, its middle).

Maybe we'll get lucky and Isaac Brock will surprise us again. Well I don't know, I don't know, I don't know, don't think so.

Plug 2

I very much enjoy Future and Metro Boomin's new album, I think a bit more than Pitchfork's Alphonse Pierre does, and his review does a great job explaining why my brain is probably being nostalgia-baited into liking the album.

Eli Enis knows a lot more about The Armed than I do, and his newsletter this week examines his own fandom in a fascinating way.

BOI (Best Of Inbox) #23

Amy O Feat. Glenn Myers - "Dribble Dribble"

Location: Bloomington, Indiana // Genre: scraggly twee // RIYL: Belle And Sebastian releasing an album on Drag City

IS U IS U (AKA Kito & Chrome Sparks) - "All I Need"

Location: LA via Australia, Brooklyn // Genre: trop-house? kinda? // RIYL: dancing

Low Hum - "Only If You Say So"

Location: LA via Hawaii // Genre: funky psych // RIYL: Tame Impala's "Currents" if James Murphy produced it

Model Child - "Headlights"

Location: LA // Genre: sophisti-pop // RIYL: That Nicholas Krgovich song "Along the PCH On Oscar Night" that I mentioned last week

O. - "Green Shirt"

Location: UK // Genre: heavy motorik // RIYL: The dude from Tobacco producing a Death From Above 1979 song

Saya Gray - ".. YOU, A FOOL"

.. YOU, A FOOL, by Saya Gray
from the album QWERTY II

Location: London // Genre: proto-prog through a Gen Z lens // RIYL: a very online 20-something time-traveling back to Canterbury in 1968 and fronting a band filled with members of Soft Machine and Caravan

Tei Shi - "No Falta"

Location: New York via Vancouver via Colombia // Genre: alt-R&B // RIYL: Blood Orange collaborating with Kali Uchis

Track of the Week

Pink Milk - "Andromeda"

Andromeda, by Pink Milk
from the album Night on Earth

Location: Sweden // Genre: dreamy darkwave // RIYL: a more lo-fi version of Cold Cave or late-period Crystal Castles, but with early-2000s M83 was behind the boards, but even more lo-fi

A realization I had while listening to Pink Milk's gothy new album Night on Earth: DIY music, especially electronic-leaning DIY music, doesn't sound as shitty as it used to. That's not a compliment to recent electronic-leaning DIY music. It's also not a shot at Pink Milk. They traffick in a dark, reverb-gauzed sound that instantly transported me back to my early 2010s days—perusing MP3 blogs, discovering random duos who recorded in closets, making their music my entire personality for a week or two. "Andromeda" blooms into something absolutely gorgeous, and it's gorgeous because it's shitty (by modern recording fidelity standards). Every new darkwave band tries to sound like The Sisters of Mercy, and that band is awesome because they actually did the damn thing and got theatrical pop genius Jim fucking Steinman to collaborate with them. But if you don't have access to Steinman (which you don't, because he died in 2021), let the atmosphere do the heavy lifting for you.

All Inbox Infinity picks are available in playlist form via Apple Music and Spotify.

A couple programming notes:

1- As you probably noticed, this time I didn't do extended write-ups for songs other than the Track of the Week. These take longer than you'd expect, and while I'm still committed to this newsletter's original goal of discovering music via my inbox, it's clear that the essays drive weekly traffic more than a sentence or two about a random song that I like. To compensate, I tried including more detailed info/description of each song in italics. I'm not tied to this structural change, so email me if you miss my track descriptions (

2- I'm going to Savannah, GA with my family for my birthday next week, so no newsletter on April 5. I'm telling you this A) to explain why I wrote about Good News for People Who Love Bad News a week before its actual 20th anniversary and B) to solicit any recommendations y'all might have for things to do in Savannah, other than listen to Outkast's (okay, really Big Boi's) "West Savannah" on repeat for four days straight.

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Jamie Larson