Even if Modest Mouse could progress, would anyone want it to? The entire persona of singer, songwriter, and guitarist Isaac Brock—the thematic anchor to his band's rambling rock excursions—emerges from insights he's gleaned while traveling in circles in the middle of nowhere. Brock embraces the symbolism of the snake eating its tail and the dead feeding the living, which is why Modest Mouse's music sticks to cycles of drone and wave: That's what best emphasizes Brock's obsessions.
Still, Brock and company do have a sense of sonic adventure, and Good News For People Who Love Bad News continues a dalliance with unconventional instrumentation that began on 2000's The Moon & Antarctica. The album opens with the aptly titled "Horn Intro," and throughout the record, horns, strings, synthesizer, and ambient rattle give Modest Mouse's chunky, quasi-rootsy rock some much-needed variety. The songs still rely on Brock's echoing guitar patterns and Mobius-strip lyrics, delivered in the voice of a harried, hip-hop-inflected square-dance caller, but though the vehicle stays the same, the scenery outside the window changes considerably.
"I like songs about drifters / Books about the same," Brock croaks in "The World At Large," and Good News For People Who Love Bad News backs up that statement with track after track of animated elaboration on how endless wandering and intense self-examination might save the world. Through the frenzied prog-funk of "The View," the martial punches of "Satin In A Coffin," the high-lonesome balladry of "Blame It On The Tetons," and the serial climaxes of the gloriously idiosyncratic "One Chance," Modest Mouse emphasizes how physical landscapes and human personalities converge. On the album's outstanding first single, "Float On," the circular stomp and Brock's spiraling guitar hit an anthem-like high, as though the band were trying to convince an arena full of nonbelievers to let go of all sense of direction and let nature take its course.