Modest Mouse’s “Poison the Well” Is Laser-Focused Venom at the Powerful and Cruel

Modest Mouse © James Joiner
Modest Mouse’s “Poison The Well” is a two minute encapsulation of 2019’s deep cultural angst, and well worth the listen.
Stream: “Poison the Well” – Modest Mouse


Isaac Brock continues to be one of alternative rock’s most unique and polarizing voices, and while Modest Mouse have yet to follow up 2015’s Strangers to Ourselves, this past month the band released “Poison the Well.” Their first single in years (off a Record Store Day exclusive triangle 7”, out on April 13), “Poison The Well” promises great strides from a new Modest Mouse release, especially by comparison to the good but relatively stagnant Strangers to Ourselves.

Poison the Well - Modest Mouse

Poison the Well – Modest Mouse (single art)

There’s always a hidden venom in Brock’s vocals. “Black Cadillacs” begins unassumingly, Brock’s somber lyrics floating over a sullen guitar line, a viper’s coil before striking, before breaking into a defiant chorus, “Done! Done! Done! With all the Fuck! Fuck! Fucking around!

Modest Mouse’s new single, by contrast, is all venom.

It’s a decisive statement ahead of whatever new album they put out, and we can only hope that the rest of the album follows the heading of “Poison The Well.” Sonically, this is Modest Mouse at their most refined and cohesive, with every element of production feeding into the overall ethos of the song: Bitterness at power.

This is Brock baring his fangs, spitting acerbic lyrics with a refined distortion laid over the vocals. The guitar lines ooze piquant confidence, like a bitter sneer in the face of a prison guard. Even the lyric video plays with the song’s themes deftly, albeit simplistically. Swirling green textures evoke images of greed and poisoned waters. “Poison The Well” has a laser focus, simply put. Clocking in at well under three minutes, this is one of Modest Mouse’s tightest releases in some time, more compact than “Lampshades on Fire” and more explosive than “Florida.”

Modest Mouse © James Joiner

Modest Mouse © James Joiner

The tune has apparently been circulating in Modest Mouse’s live sets for some time now, in one form or another. It’s easy enough to find videos dating back to 2011 – before even Strangers to Ourselves released. But the song existed in a stripped down form, missing key lyrics and the acrid fuzz on Isaac Brock’s vocals.

It’s apt that the song manifested fully in this social moment, though. Just look at the lyrics:

the medicine makers they are tryin’ to kill us
yeah they know what a cure is
but they bet that’s bad for business
get it out
gimme, gimme, gimme
some sorta lift,
so pass me that feather down
gimme, gimme,
gimme somethin’ better’n this,
this bad taste in my mouth

If they seem germane, it’s because they are. Whether it’s true or not, there’s a pervasive sense of powerlessness in culture right now, that the powerful are not just cruel but petty and stupid. “Poison The Well” seizes on that bone-deep feeling and gives it form – the “medicine makers” with endless potential for good instead use their position to turn a buck. It’s an indictment of abuse of power, sure, but also the wasted potential of a moment with so much promise.

So “poison the well,” Brock pleads: Don’t play their game.

Poison the Well - Modest Mouse's Record Store Day exclusive triangle 7”

“Poison the Well” is off Modest Mouse’s Record Store Day exclusive triangle 7”

There’s a softer plea in the tune, too. It pops in during the chorus, and begs for a simple respite,

gimme, gimme,
gimme some sorta lift,
so pass me that feather down
gimme, gimme,
gimme somethin’ better’n this,

In a different song, this would be a moment of exhaustion, a moment where the song slows dramatically and the instrumentals abate. But “Poison The Well” presses on the wound. A respite here would be unearned, so the song careens on, almost insisting – no rest, no respite until something changes.

“Poison The Well” is a two minute encapsulation of 2019’s deep cultural angst, and well worth the listen. Modest Mouse’s Record Store Day exclusive is out April 13th: Find participating stores here!

— —

:: stream/purchase Poison the Well here ::
Stream: “Poison the Well” – Modest Mouse

— — — —

Poison the Well - Modest Mouse's Record Store Day exclusive triangle 7”

Connect to Modest Mouse on
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Discover new music on Atwood Magazine
📸 © James Joiner

:: Stream Modest Mouse ::

Avatar

Danny Vagnoni is a writer specializing in music & culture writing, podcasting, and editorial work. Danny is currently working with Grammy winner Denny Somach (Ah Via Musicom, Eric Johnson) on an upcoming classic rock podcast and multimedia endeavour. He is based in Philadelphia, PA, and loves the city's resurgent culture. [Aside from all that, Danny has approximately five million instruments, two of which he can play competently, brews beer for kicks, co-hosts a podcast, and has a ceaseless drive to create.]