We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank seems most easily defined by what it isn't. This isn't The Moon & Antarctica, with its move from landscape and loss, from even landscape as loss, towards utter aridity. Dead lacks the blood-on-the-tracks freshness of the early work; this is not Interstate 8, alas. Nor does this album possess the pop confectionery that Good News for People Who Love Bad News so boldly flaunted. But the what-it's-not approach fails to take into account how much is, gorgeously, available.
There are moments where Dead sounds, if not on the verge of something terrible, on the verge of something ecstatic. Joy is a departure, which is to say, a new beginning, a land Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock has yet to populate with his ghost horses and myths and silver.
True, the first single, "Dashboard," is more or less a toss-off, the lyrical solace ("The dashboard melts / But we still have the radio") pretty much by the numbers, unconvincing. But the tenderness of songs like "Little Motel" moves into you and stays. This isn't desperation gone domestic -- this is simply an album of the in-between, in transit, midway. "People as Places as People" has a splendor that's almost childlike ("We were the places / That we wanted to go"). These hooks soar. If The Moon... was a descent-from, this then is the converse, an ascension, far above the hills, so much easier to love them now.
Pain managed by beauty, sure. But in every silver (even with Johnny Marr's sparkling) lining, hurt leaks through. No one, here, has broken faith. There's still the world, a way to be okay in it, maybe, but still the world, and despite the joy, one more stop on the "...lifelong walk / Back / To the same exact spot."
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