I could be overdramatic and call it "The Great Napster Debacle of 2000" or something like that, but I won't. Instead, I'll just say that about a year ago I got heavily into using the popular music-sharing tool and didn't really think about it until it was too late. My problem was that while I was hearing music before it was coming out and making my decisions more wisely about things that I was purchasing (or so I thought), I was also pretty much ruining my music-buying experience in a lot of ways and this album fell as a casualty in that way. Even though I was all over their second album The Lonesome Crowded West and picked it as one of the best albums that year, I still didn't go right out and purchase their newer release when it hit.
The problem with The Moon And Antarctica isn't that its a bad album or anything else, it was simply a matter of circumstance in why I didn't end up buying it until almost a year after it came out. I actually downloaded the entire thing about 2 months before it came out last year, then listened to it while busy at work on two crappy little speakers. Not only did I not have the excitement of ripping open the package and plopping the disc into my CD player (something that's pretty important, I think), but I didn't get the full listening experience (bass is nearly nonexistent on my work speaker) and my listening time was filled with distraction from work related activities. Then, when I got a new computer at work, I deleted the album from my machine and didn't get it back becasue I just wasn't interested enough in it.
After some time away from the album, I decided it was time to finally pick it up for real and give it the chance it deserved. I brought it home and pulled off the wrapping and dropped it into my CD player and turned the stereo up just a bit more than normal. The songs I heard were sort of familiar to me, but all new. They dripped with a new vitality and I was again a Modest Mouse fan. Although one of the things I was worried about when they signed with Epic was a change of their sound, I didn't really hear it (except for an expansion on ideas that they'd toyed with before in their releases). There were still the rough edges that I liked and the 15 tracks on the disc showed a ton of variety, including things that they'd done great in the past as well as branches out into new directions.
Lyrically, the album moves out in huge new directions as well. Whereas the last few albums dealt with the great expanse that is the United States, this time around the lyrics seem to move out in a more cosmic level, looking at earth and humankind as a whole, wondering about our fates and places here. It's sort of an interesting fit given the expansion of the music as well (some of the songs have so many layers that I'm completely unsure how the group will perform them in concert). The album itself flows quite nicely too, from slower tracks to faster ones and tracks that manage to do both. After starting out with the trio of interstellar (and quieter) tracks "3rd Planet," "Gravity Rules Everything," and "Dark Center Of The Universe," the disc changes up with a couple tracks that kick it up a notch. "Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes" is a lead bass track with some strange lyrics and three completely different vocal tracks by Brock while "A Different City" absolutely takes off with a wailing guitar and harkens to the groups more punk influences.
The rest of the album is pretty darn solid as well. Very notable is the one-two combination of "The Stars Are Projectors" and "Wild Packs Of Family Dogs." The former is a long, layered track that steadily builds until violins are cranking away with the furious rhythm at the end while the latter is a simple acoustic number with lyrics that will make you grin like a fool. So while some things have changed with the big-label budget, Modest Mouse is still Modest Mouse and they've created another excellent album. I still tend to like The Lonesome Crowded West a bit more, but that's just me. At least I know not to completely rely on Napster in the future.