Look over the glaciers at the cold night sky, sparkling with stars and with a huge full moon overhead. Then imagine the aurora borealis rising up and distorting the night with its raw beauty. That's Modest Mouse's "Moon and Antarctica," now remastered and rereleased with four extra tracks.
"3rd Planet" kicks off the enticingly surreal album with lines like "The universe is shaped exactly like the earth if you go/straight long enough you'll end up where you were." This meditation on the universe stretches over the album, with the warm, mildly achy "Gravity Rides Everything." Things grow darker with the warped, snarling "Different City" and saddening "Perfect Disguise," finally settling on even ground with the folkish "Lives," and the sweeping, magnificent soundscapes of a three-song cycle starting with "Cold Part." Unfortunately, the album is then saddled with "Life Like Weeds" (pretty, but it feels tacked on) and the jarring, raw "What People Are Made Of," which barely seems like the same band.
In the extended version, there are also four tracks from the BBC Radio Sessions: A radio edit of "3rd Planet" (with naughty words bleeped out), a more intimate version of "Perfect Disguise," a catchy instrumental "Custom Concern," and finishes up with a rather blurry version of "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes."
"Moon and Antarctica" is the sort of music that is like looking through a telescope with an iridescent lens. You not only look at things, but they seem to change in an appealing way. The extra tracks are something of a disappointment, however -- they don't have the dark sparkle of the original album, and there aren't very many extras.
The lyrics have the quality of space poetry, very offbeat and not quite connected with the everyday world. They're a little frightening with their exploration of anger, loneliness and misery, but also quite beautiful in their brushes by the very edges of the universe (try listening to this while looking at fractal pictures), and the evocative wording ("And right after I die the dogs start floating up towards the glowing sky").
Fortunately, Modest Mouse doesn't include just the usual guitar-bass-drums riffs. That would be doing an injustice to the music they put out. Forming parts of the smooth music are violins, electronic stretches and a sort of unique sound that brings to mind "Pink Floyd doing folk." Isaac Brock's thin voice always has a sort of distant quality. It's not really a GOOD voice, but like the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, it's an integral part of the music itself.
Edgy, beautiful, melancholy, dark and spacey, "The Moon and Antarctica" is deserving of such royal treatment. The extra tracks are a disappointment, but the original album remains a modern indie classic.