If you’ve been following the indie rock scene across the last three decades, you’ve likely heard about Modest Mouse. I’ve always thought the American band has a very appropriate name, as they have enjoyed very modest worldwide success, without blowing up, selling out, or running out of material.
The band has been releasing eccentric indie classics ever since they formed in Washington in 1992, and I’ve been keeping up with their music ever since. With a career that spans almost 30 years, the band has seven studio albums and a ton of good tunes under their belt.
As a long-term listener, I thought I’d pay a tribute and break down the 21 best Modest Mouse songs.
Read on to find out which tracks I picked!
List of the Best Modest Mouse Songs
1. Float On
Let’s kick things off with one of Modest Mouse’s most well-known tracks, Float On. As I mentioned in the introduction, the band has enjoyed some modest yet worldwide success – they’re not exactly a superstar household name, yet they’re far bigger than you might expect.
This track is a great example – since being uploaded to YouTube in 2009, the music video has racked up almost 100 million views! Your friends may claim that they’ve never heard of Modest Mouse, but we bet you any money that they recognize that iconic opening guitar riff!
2. The World At Large
Next on my list of the best Modest Mouse songs is The World at Large. This track represents one of my favorite characteristics about the band – they have a great ability to write anthemic indie songs without getting too fast and heavy.
The band has always kept it chilled and even solemn at times in comparison to other indie bands, and this has always made them stand out in my books. However, my absolute favorite thing about this track is those gorgeous wind instrument flourishes that you hear every so often.
Whilst Modest Mouse’s music is pretty consistently chill, this doesn’t mean that it is always slow. Loads of their tracks have a more feel-good, high-energy feel, with tracks such as Dashboard making me want to get up and have a little dance.
The classic indie hi-hats, unique string instrumentation, and palm-muted lead guitar riffs all add up to create something that is signature to the release date of 2007, yet still holding a unique sound that I always felt other bands ended up copying.
4. We Are Between
Modest Mouse isn’t just a band – they often come across to me much like an art project, due to their amazing conceptual styles, album artwork, and music videos. The music videos have only gotten better and better over the years, with one of my recent favorites being We Are Between.
The video plays out very much like a film, with gorgeous cinematography portraying the band’s creative style beautifully. This is one of the best Modest Mouse songs in my books, demonstrating that the band has still got it in 2021!
5. Ocean Breathes Salty
I love all of Modest Mouse’s music, but as I mentioned at the beginning, I am particularly fond of their slower, chilled, and almost post-rock-influenced tracks. For this reason, I’ve always been particularly fond of the band’s early ’00s albums, an era during which I feel the band’s creativity was at its highest.
One of the most standout tracks of this period for me is Ocean Breathes Salty – the shaky vocals, raw drums, and organs all contribute to creating a unique track, it just makes me want to take a trip to the seaside and feel the ocean wind in my hair.
The majority of Modest Mouse tracks I’ve chosen so far are pretty feel-good, but as I have already noted, some of their tracks can be a little more melancholy.
Tracks such as Dramamine are a great example of this – they somehow manage to make me feel ambivalently sad, nostalgic yet calm, and even happy. It’s a strange combination of emotions that only Modest Mouse can achieve.
Released all the way back on their 1996 album This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, the power of this track puts it as an easy contestant for one of the best Modest Mouse songs out there.
7. Cowboy Dan
Let’s stick around in the late ’90s for a moment, it really was a golden era for Modest Mouse and when they produced their most unique music, in my opinion.
Describing this music as ‘sad’ doesn’t really cut it – it’s honestly more haunting and edgy in places, with tracks like Cowboy Dan building up an atmosphere that is quite hard to describe. I absolutely love the fuzzy tone of the guitars, the minimalist drums, and the choked vocals.
A very unique track from a special band.
Some people use the genres ‘country’ and ‘folk’ to describe the music of Modest Mouse, and whilst at times this seems out of place, I can totally see why people use this term. Songs such as Bukowski use timbres and instrumentation that makes the track feel like it comes straight out of the deep south of the U.S.
I’m talking banjos, brushed drums, double-bass, the lot! This certainly isn’t a universal sound across the entirety of Modest Mouse’s career, but I sure do love it when I hear it!
Next on my list of the best Modest Mouse songs is Broke. When I first heard this track, I instantly knew that it would be one of my favorite songs purely based on the gorgeous guitar intro.
I was learning to play the guitar at the time and I really wanted to recreate the post-rock atmosphere that I heard in this song, so it wasn’t long until I headed out to purchase a reverb and delay pedal.
I’ll always remember how to play this song, and singing along whilst playing is just a beautiful way to bring back memories.
10. Spitting Venom
You probably know by now that Modest Mouse are pretty eclectic – they’ve explored not only indie music but post-rock, country, and folk too.
Well, they certainly didn’t stop there – their album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank features a few tracks that are much rawer, fuzzier, and heavier. A great example is Spitting Venom – it’s easily one of the best Mouse Mouse tracks, definitely in my top five.
I love the long musical journey it takes me on, the pressure that builds up, and the fluctuating energy that the band performs with. A heavy, epic track that really stands out!
11. Edit the Sad Parts
We’ve mostly covered Modest Mouse albums so far, but do you really know a band thoroughly if you haven’t checked out their early EPs? I’ve always thought this is a great way to get to know a band and their progression, and Modest Mouse’s 1996 EP Interstate 8 is no exception.
Just take a listen to tracks like Edit The Sad Parts, and it’s pretty clear that the band holds influences from post-hardcore and early screamo/emo music. That might come as a surprise, but the vocals, drums, and progressive style really bring me back to those years.
12. Missed the Boat
The next track on my list of the best Modest Mouse tracks is Missed the Boat. I’ve always considered this to be one of their biggest hits, but I was pretty shocked to find that the official music video has less than a million views.
That is an outrage – the animated video, robotic theme, and tongue-in-cheek chorus result in an underrated masterpiece. Seriously, this track should have gotten more TV and radio coverage at the time, it’s a real ‘00s anthem in my opinion!
13. Lampshades on Fire
Continuing with some of my favorite Modest Mouse music videos, Lampshades on Fire is another masterpiece. Considering this was released a little later in 2014, the video features a production value that is significantly bigger than Missed The Boat, with incredible costumes, themes, and sets that match the picture that the music paints beautifully.
What a great track – I think it’s safe to say that Modest Mouse are a prime example of a band that kept on giving their music and videos their absolute best effort throughout their whole career, never selling out.
14. 3rd Planet
Whilst I’ve been writing this list of the best Modest Mouse songs, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what it is that makes the band stand out so much.
After coming to the track 3rd Planet, I think I’ve figured it out – it’s their dissonance. The band is not only raw and lofi at times, but the chords and harmonies they use are often quite dissonant and jarring.
Despite this, they somehow make it work – it doesn’t sound like their guitars are out of tune, but more like they’ve invented their own scales or tuning. Gotta love innovation like that.
15. Gravity Rides Everything
The last track I mentioned, 3rd Planet, is off of one of my favorite Modest Mouse albums, The Moon & Antarctica. There’s something about the name of this album that I find really fitting – tracks like Gravity Rides Everything makes me feel like I’m on a long car journey on an adventure to nowhere, looking out of the window at mysterious sights.
I think the sparse instrumentation and airy vocals help paint this picture, it’s not too in your face or catchy – just nice and atmospheric.
16. Trailer Trash
As I mentioned earlier, I think that Modest Mouse has maintained a fantastic quality of music throughout their entire career, but I do tend to keep going back to the old stuff. I think the main reason for this is the fuzzy and low-budget production style – it blasts me with nostalgia making me feel like I’m back in the ’90s.
Tracks like Trailer Trash are a prime example of this – it’s funny, because excellent studio equipment was available at the time, yet something about the lo-fi style reminds me of my ’90s childhood. Beautiful stuff.
17. King Rat
If you’ve watched a few Modest Mouse videos by now, you’ll probably notice that they love cartoons. Tons of their music videos feature a really unique drawing style that captures the lo-fi nature of their production beautifully.
One of the best Modest Mouse songs and music videos in my opinion is King Rat – the pirate-themed video is absolutely gorgeous, and the accompaniment of trumpets, double-bass, and marching drums pulls together to deliver a really interesting vibe.
18. Bury Me With It
Going back to the unique tonality and dissonance of Modest Mouse, just take a listen to Bury Me With It – that opening chord sequence, lead guitar accompaniment, and wailed vocal combination is completely insane!
Somehow it works, but I’m not surprised the band didn’t get more radio time with tracks like this! However, once you’ve listened to enough music, you just need something unique and colorful to listen to, and Modest Mouse never fails to deliver exactly that.
19. Fuck Your Acid Trip
I’ve always wondered what inspired Modest Mouse’s unique, dissonant and edgy style, but with the release of their new album The Golden Casket, I think I’m starting to understand!
The album artwork is very psychedelic, and the band even released official psychedelic visualizers for the appropriately named track Fuck Your Acid Trip. Just listen to the lyrics, and you’ll see what I mean – their unique musical style is clearly rather ‘inspired’, and I love it!
20. Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset
If you’re still looking at the album artwork for The Golden Casket, quickly compare it to the artwork behind the band’s early album This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, where a glacial and bland landscape is shown.
What a contrast!
I think this perfectly summarises the versatility of this band’s musical themes and concepts, and the track Talkin’ Shit About A Pretty Sunset could not say it better. What a hilarious yet poetic juxtaposition!
21. Little Motel
I couldn’t believe it when I realized that we had reached the last track of the list already – time really does fly when you’re listening to Modest Mouse.
I thought a great way to close it off would be with their gorgeous track Little Motel. It’s not the craziest, most innovative Modest Mouse song – it’s just a humble, relaxing lullaby.
I absolutely love the way it starts off soft, builds up with some interesting keyboards, and slowly drifts off into the band’s classic post-rock dissonance. This truly is one of the best Modest Mouse songs, an absolute masterwork in my books.
Justin is an audio engineer with years of experience in the field. He has been creating and playing music his entire life, but he really found his passion for engineering when he was introduced to Logic Pro at age 10. Justin has spent countless hours perfecting his craft and now works as a freelance engineer out of Boston, MA.