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Modest Mouse returns with sunny ‘Golden Casket’ ahead of Knitting Factory concert

Aug. 19, 2021 Updated Thu., Aug. 19, 2021 at 3:01 p.m.

Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse performs on Day 4 of the Lollapalooza Music Festival on Aug. 1 at Grant Park in Chicago.  (Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse performs on Day 4 of the Lollapalooza Music Festival on Aug. 1 at Grant Park in Chicago. (Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

Upbeat and Modest Mouse are typically mutually exclusive terms, but what do you expect from a band with album titles such as “Good News for People Who Love Bad News” and “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.” Well, the band, which emerged from Issaquah, Washington, in 1992, is touring behind “The Golden Casket,” which is one of its sunnier albums. The dark, insular songs have been replaced by some tunes that are almost bubbly.

What inspired the brooding singer-songwriter Isaac Brock to lighten up?

“Well, since hopelessness seemed to be such a hot commodity (during the pandemic), I felt it was best not to contribute and focus on the antidote as much as possible,” Brock said via email from his Portland home.

Modest Mouse, which performs Wednesday at the Knitting Factory, impresses with some of its warmest material. The surprising “Lace Up Your Shoes” is a cute song inspired by Brock’s young daughter.

“When we started tracking, (producer) Dave Sardy and I were trying to get the singing and lyrics for a bunch of songs, kind of flitting from one to another. I kept running into a roadblock. They were all trying to be about how much I love my children. I figured out that if I didn’t write an unabashed love song to them that I wasn’t going to get anywhere with any of the others. So, I opened the syrup spigot and let it gush out. It worked.”

A number of edgy singer-songwriters, such as John Lennon and Keith Richards, have written gorgeous songs inspired by their children. The former’s “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),” is one of the most moving songs written by the maverick Beatle. The latter, who indulged more than any rocker, perhaps save David Crosby, co-wrote the pretty song “Dandelion” about his daughter. Emoting about a child is cool. “We are Between” and “The Sun Hasn’t Left” are a pair of catchy, inspiring songs.

Co-producers Sardy and Jacknife Lee add some sheen to the project, but “The Golden Casket” isn’t slick. It’s arguably the best sounding Modest Mouse album.

“We saw a lot of possibilities with the wide array of interesting processors, plug-ins and magic tricks offered in the computer,” Brock said. “Then we paired them with odd, not necessarily musical sounds from the natural world. We really just got into the weeds with that aspect of recording before we got hung up on turning them into actual songs.”

Lee was late to the game with Modest Mouse, which also includes drummer Jeremiah Green, multi-instrumentalist Tom Peloso, bassist-guitarist Russell Higbee, percussionist Ben Massarella and guitarist Simon O’Connor.

Lee was asked to work on four of the tracks after the album had already been recorded.

“He did an amazing job,” Brock said. “Dave Sardy and the band steered the sonic diversity during the tracking.

“We intentionally started the record with very few pre-prepared songs. We started each track as a sonic collage and then found the shape of the song as the lyrical elements were added.”

There have been rumors that Smiths icon’ Johnny Marr, who recorded with Modest Mouse during the “We Were Dead Before the Ship Sank” sessions in 2007, would be returning to the fold. A reunion isn’t imminent, even though Brock wouldn’t mind playing again with the guitar hero.

“I like to imagine that Johnny and I will write together again, but there’s a good chance that things won’t synchronize in that way again in this lifetime,” he said.

A few years ago I asked Marr if he would reunite the Smiths with enigmatic vocalist Morrissey.

“I would get the group back together as long as Morrissey played the cello,” Marr cracked.

Brock misses Marr’s sharp sense of humor.

“Johnny’s anecdotes are numerous, and they are hilarious,” Brock said. “Smart dude on all levels.”

The same can be said for Brock, who emerged out of poverty on the other side of the state and has become one of the most intriguing, if not prolific, singer-songwriters in alternative rock over the last generation.

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