The date is December 17, 2004. I am 13 years old. During a period where I was bedridden due to debilitating back pain, I have reached my trembling, nervous hands into the world of music. One of the first things they grasped was Modest Mouse’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News (an album that deservedly earned a place on this list as well). I fell in love immediately: Traditional verse-chorus-verse structures abandoned? Catchy guitar playing? And…trumpets? What brazen oddity! Naturally, I wanted more, and debated using my limited funds to purchase another Modest Mouse album that seemed promising, the one that rests on the top space of this list.
At this point, 2004 had been the hardest year of my life. It was about to get much harder.
My parents were divorced, and the arrangement was that we saw my father Tuesdays and Thursdays and on alternate weekends. Due to the car accident which rendered me crippled, he had been unable to see me and my brother for smaller and smaller increments of time and on fewer days. For many years he had been trapped in a whirlpool of prescription drugs and alcoholism, and this was the day we all found that he had finally been pulled under, once and for all. My mother answers the phone at 10 PM. Uneasy horror spreads across her face as the call continues and when she hangs up, she turns to my brother and me and says, “Boys, this is the hardest thing I will ever have to tell you. Your father is dead.”
At this point-I don’t even really know why-I felt the need to buy The Moon and Antarctica. Maybe I could control this one thing. Maybe this one thing could bring peace, halt the deafening silence bursting from the front of my head to the back. That night, it did not. But in the weeks, months and years to come, I found it to be necessary and significant in a way that no piece of art had or ever will be able to match again.
I tell you this background not to illicit sympathy, or to say that my personal connection to this album is the reason that it is deemed album of the past ten years and my personal favorite album of all time. Quite the contrary.
The extraordinary thing here is that The Moon and Antarctica would still be #1 even if none of this had ever happened to me.
This is an album crafted by man and infused with the blood of specters. One does not consider the instruments or the songwriting while listening to this album. Those thoughts occur afterwords. When listening to The Moon and Antarctica, the experience is that of oneness, of every plucked string and enunciation forming a perfect whole that sweeps over the listener as a wave of moondust. Breaking the album down into a song-by-song basis is impossible even as each song stands on its own and makes its mark in a way that completes the listening experience. Each note is a fiber made to create a blanket that covers the earth yet warms you as though you were the only living thing in existence.
The Moon and Antarctica, in the end, is a treatise on the hypocrisy, greed, malice and sloth of the living man, and how all of these things cease to matter once the vaguest hint of perspective comes into play. We travel from assertions of good and of higher power that renders human worries irrelevant (“3rd Planet” and “Gravity Rides Everything”), wander through confused philosophizing (“The Stars are Projectors”) and end, curiously enough, with bitterness and rage (“Life Like Weeds”, “What People are Made Of”). The message couldn’t be clearer: Isaac Brock leaves the album knowing less than he did when he started it, and the listener is implicated in this crime of obfuscation. Yet the listener cannot help but agree with the songs, whether they espouse bitter common truths (“Well it took a lot of work to be the ass I am/And I’m real damn sure that anyone can equally, easily, fuck you over”) or ruminations on the banality of typical communication (“All this talking all the time and the air fills up, up, up until there’s nothing left to breathe, up until there’s nothing left to speak, up until the data parts in space”). We are all to blame, and if realizing that won’t solve everything, it’ll certainly be a step in the right direction.
I suppose that’s the most impressive thing about The Moon and Antarctica. Modest Mouse, throughout their career, have had a tendency to make you acknowledge parts of yourself you didn’t know were there, acknowledge truths that you didn’t know were real. Therefore, unlike many other masterpieces, The Moon and Antarctica is not exceptional for its introspection. Rather than take pieces of from inside itself and display them, it removes them from the listener, gently but firmly, and tells you, “See here. This is what you think, even if you didn’t think it. This is what you feel, even if you didn’t feel it. And this is what you know, even if you don’t know it.”
In other words, Isaac Brock writes, sings and plays his guitar. Jeremiah Green drums. Eric Judy plays his bass. And somewhere, during all of this, you learned. You discovered.
Art can do no greater.