Ryan Vogelsong Has Been Huge for the Giants This Year

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Ryan Vogelsong enters this afternoon’s start against the Cardinals with a 9-9 record, a 4.05 ERA (91 ERA+), 96 strikeouts, 53 walks, and 16 homers given up in 120 innings. Those innings have come spread across 20 starts and eight relief appearances. His FIP, if you’re into that kind of thing, is 4.65. Those aren’t numbers that will win anybody a Cy Young Award but, make no mistake, Vogelsong has been a life saver for the Giants this season.

Coming into today, Vogelsong ranks third on the pitching staff in innings pitched, behind Madison Bumgarner and Chris Heston. That right there tells you all you need to know about how thoroughly savaged the Giants’ rotation has been by injuries. Four…count ’em, four… of the team’s five members of the projected Opening Day rotation have spent significant time on the disabled list this year. Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Tim Hudson are still on there (though Hudson and Lincecum may be magically healed by expansion to 40-man rosters next week), and Jake Peavy missed most of the first half. For many teams with an eye toward contending, that kind of thing would spell disaster.

Enter Vogey. Vogey isn’t a star. He does nothing pretty. His stuff is underwhelming and some nights it looks like he gets outs on sheer willpower and scowling. He has been perfectly league-averagish in his starts this season, maybe a tad below. He’s had (somewhat inexplicable) control problems and he’s given up too many home runs. Again, not an All-Star.

What he has been is healthy and reliable, and you can’t say that for except Bumgarner. That’s a big deal, as his ability to ably fill in a rotation spot has meant its one less hole the Giants have to scramble to fill (as they did in acquiring Mike Leake) amid all the things that have gone wrong with the pitching staff.

Of course, Vogelsong was purely an afterthought going into this season. He was almost a Houston Astro before those talks fell apart for reasons that still aren’t totally clear. Whether out of loyalty or familiarity or whathaveyou, Vogelsong re-signed with the Giants.

It wasn’t immediately clear what his role would be, and some fans grumbled that it was simply a good will gesture on the Giants’ part. The five-man rotation was set in stone and the team already had themselves a Yusmeiro Petit for long relief/spot start work. He seemed slated exclusively for garbage innings, and was basically signed as insurance in case injuries hit.

Well, the injuries hit. And hit. Immediately. Even when Vogelsong was passed over for a rotation spot for Chris Heston when Cain got hurt in spring, Vogelsong got the starting nod when Peavy got hurt and hasn’t given the job back. Once the starting pitching became decimated it was all too clear what Vogelsong’s value was to this team. As a stop gap option to weather the injury storm, he’s played his part to perfection.

Again, he hasn’t been great, but he’s taken his turn every five days and he’s been league average, and that don’t grow on trees, folks. For example, just look at what the Dodgers are dealing with behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. It’s Brett Anderson, who is solid, and then a bunch of not too much. I’d have to imagine they’d kill for a league average in-house option right about now. Consider also any playoff team now and what would happen to them if four of their top five starters had missed more than a month to injury.* The standings would probably look quite a bit different. That the Giants are ten games over .500 despite all this once again demonstrates how much of a savior Vogelsong has been to the team.

(*Consider, too, that Vogelsong is better than any starting pitcher the Phillies are currently trotting out not named Aaron Nola)

Vogelsong will go out on the mound today against the Cardinals and it’s probably not going to be pretty. He’ll probably walk some guys, throw a lot of pitches, and grit himself in and out of trouble. In the end, though, he’ll probably go six effective innings and be good enough for the team’s powerful offense to do what it does and get the team a win. That’s what he’s been doing all season and that’s a major reason why the Giants are still sniffing October in spite of it all. I feel that he doesn’t get recognized enough for this fact.

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So…Marlon Byrd

byrdie

 

The Giants have just finished losing to the Cubs for the fifth time in five tries this year, so let’s divert our attention from the gory details of the game (and Matt Cain’s continued spiritual de-pantsing) and instead toward the newest Giant, Mr. Marlon Byrd. Byrd was acquired from the Reds about five days ago and he instantly ingratiated himself to Giants fans everywhere by walloping a home run in his first at-bat with the team last Friday. Byrd had hit 19 home runs with Cincinnati this season and the Giants wanted him for his power while Hunter Pence is on the mend.

Naturally, upon hearing that the Giants had acquired Byrd, the first thing I did was rush to all the relevant prospect web sites to find out who they had given up for him. The answer is Stephen Johnson, a 24-year-old Double-A reliever with big time strikeout totals but also big time control problems. In terms of projects, this guy seems especially project-y, so that allayed my immediate fears that the Giants had lost their minds and traded Tyler Beede or something to get Byrd. The chances of Johnson ever contributing to a major league ball club in any meaningful way seem remote, but I guess youneverknow.

The Giants are smack in the middle of a hellish stretch of the schedule where, from August 6 to September 3, the worst team they’ll face is the Washington Nationals, who are currently under .500 but talented as heck and everybody expected them to be a World Series contender. Everybody else the Giants have faced or will face in that stretch is either going to be an easy playoff team or will miss the postseason by a hair. So yes, whoever drew up this part of the schedule for the Giants needs to be punched in the throat. Bring on the Rockies already!

Quite conveniently, the Giants lost Hunter Pence and Joe Panik, two of their best hitters, just in time for this stretch. That’s where Byrd comes in. Byrd is an emergency fill-in to help ride the tide in this brutal month and should be perfectly serviceable in that role. The point of Byrd as a Giant is that he’s a power threat and he’ll help recover some of the oomph lost in the lineup as long as Pence is out.

Once the lineup is fully healthy, Byrd will go back to being a bench bat and will have his uses as a late-inning power threat when rosters expand next week. He’s hacktastic and won’t make any fans of whatever is left of the OBP-is-life crowd, but he’s a nice player and a nice stopgap pickup. Honestly, when all is said and done, unless the Giants make the playoffs and Byrd goes all Cody Ross over the team’s playoff opponents, Byrd is probably going to follow Ryan Garko and Orlando Cabrera into the dustbin of midseason acquisitions who we totally forgot were Giants like two years later.

Are you ready for some Marlon Byrd fun facts? Yes…yes you are. Don’t even pretend that you aren’t excited about the 37-year-old fringe corner outfielder.

–Once upon a time, Byrd was a fairly highly-rated center field prospect for the Phillies, and in 2003 he finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting. Baseball America ranked him 26th on their top prospect list before the 2002 season, and I even remember drafting him way back then in the late rounds of a keeper league I was in. Byrd hit a perfectly impressive .303/.366/.418 as a rookie with the Phillies in 2003, but then completely lost his way the following season and began a long baseball odyssey of barely hanging on with some really bad teams and almost washing out of the game entirely.

–I say he almost washed out of the game, but that’s not entirely correct. He almost washed out of the game…twice. After phailing with the Phillies, Byrd was traded to the then-horrendous Nationals, and when he didn’t do much there, he hooked on with the Rangers, and had a few solid seasons as the starting center fielder in Texas (breaking the 20-home run mark for the first time in 2009). Byrd signed with the Cubs and made the All-Star team in 2010 for a crappy Cubs team, but had to watch from home as his former Rangers teammates won the American League pennant. Byrd then started to fade with the Cubs and by 2012 it looked like his nice little unlikely career renaissance was coming to an end.

But no! The Mets, desperate for any hitting at all, threw Byrd a bone in 2013 and he responded by hitting 21 homers with them and three more after being traded to Pittsburgh. Since the start of the 2013 season, Byrd has smacked 69 home runs and slugged .470 while playing for five…count ’em, five…different teams. He’s carved himself out a nice, if strange, little major league niche as a rent-a-slugger signed in the offseason by bad teams with the intention of being flipped to a contender at the trading deadline. That’s exactly what has happened to Byrd in two of the last three seasons.

— He was a PED guy! Yep, many either forget or don’t care due to the eternal double standard with performance-enhancing drugs and baseball players, but Byrd was suspended for 50 games back in 2012 for testing positive for a banned substance (he was also connected to Victor Conte and BALCO, which generally didn’t portend good things back then).

Not that we should get angry about Byrd’s past (supposed) PED use, but it never ceases to amuse me that many in the baseball media spend so much energy spewing fire and brimstone about Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, or (worse) speculating about guys like Jose Bautista using steroids, while giving the scores of lesser players who failed tests like Byrd (and Mike Morse, remember!) what amounts to a free pass.

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The Making of the Next Great Giants Villain

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In the wake of Pablo Sandoval’s departure this offseason, I spent a lot more time and energy rambling about Panda’s career and legacy with the Giants than I did pondering the prospects of the man who would serve as his replacement at third base. However, one simple tweet of mine from November summed up quite succinctly, I believe, my feelings on Casey McGehee as the Giants’ new third baseman. Summed it up better than any 8,000-word article of mine could, in fact:

Now, notice that my unparalleled genius is on display here for reasons twofold. First, that tweet was dated November 19, 2014. The Giants traded for McGehee on December 20, 2014. Second, “it” (that being McGehee’s tenure as a Giant) has not gone well, at all. So you see, I knew the Grand Casey McGehee Experiment was going to be a disaster a full month before it actually started. All hail me.

Let us not mince words. McGehee, as everyone knows, has been abysmal. After Wednesday’s loss to the Dodgers, he’s hitting .169 and he’s been grounding into double plays at a rate that would make A.J. Pierzynski blush (8 GIDPs in 16 games, to be exact). “Hits” McGehee pretty much turned into “Shits” McGehee the second he put on a Giants uniform.

Now, we should let a month’s worth of cold bat, especially at the beginning of the season, slide. Sadly, that’s not how the Twitterverse works. McGehee is the latest Giants player to be raked across the coals online on a nightly basis, and many Giants fans (not just the beer-drunk KNBR callers) are saying it’s already time to move on.

Actually, that’s putting it all too nicely. Some Giants fans want the team to move on, but not until after McGehee is beaten and stomped and chained to the bottom of McCovey Cove. McGehee has been the recipient of the sort of venom from Giants fans that I haven’t seen since the Armando Benitez days of yore. I mean, read that article. Some asshole actually wants the McGehee to die in a fiery inferno because he’s hitting a buck-sixty. The Internet: I get older, the man-children on it stay the same age.

Back on planet Earth, let’s ask if there actually is reason to believe that McGehee is going to rebound. Just based on the fact that he’s a career .262 hitter, which is 100 points higher than his current average, then the answer is yes. Is there reason to believe he’ll actually turn out to be a good hitter over the course of the season? This is where it gets murky.

Proponents will point out that McGehee had a higher OBP than Pablo Sandoval last year and he was a solidly above-average hitter for an NL third baseman. Critics will counter that he slugged just .357, hit just .243/.310/.310 in the second half, and (fancy this) led the league by grounding into 31 double plays. Add in the fact that he had washed out of baseball year before last and evidence is mounting that maybe McGehee isn’t a worthy successor to the Panda’s throne.

This isn’t meant to pile on McGehee. He isn’t the first hitter to have one horrible month where he can’t hit water falling out of a boat. Hell, Giants fans should be all too familiar with this; Sandoval himself hit a lousy .177/.262/.302 in April last year and he turned out fine. Give McGehee another month to right himself and maybe he’ll hit .296, like he did in May of last year.

So the Giants’ big offseason acquisition might look like a bust now, but let’s not overreact to what is still in the arena of small sample size. I realize that telling fans on Twitter and the Internets not to overreact is like telling the scorpion not to sting the fucking frog, but a player, especially a new player playing in a brutal park on hitters, deserves at least two (two-and-a-half?) months before earning our scorn. McGehee looks lost at the moment, but I’m cautiously optimistic about his season-long prospects, maybe just for the sole purpose of serving as the token dickhead contrarian. I unabashedly predict that he’ll end the season hitting something like .280/.340/.380, which would certainly be acceptable production.

Besides, the Giants traded for McGehee (cheaply, I might add) fully knowing that he was just a one-year plan. Worst case scenario here: McGehee stinks for a couple months and the Giants give Matt Duffy a shot. That’s not a sky-is-falling situation. I can, however, think of an even more terrifying scenario. A scenario where McGehee rights the ship, hits just well enough to be above-average from here on out, and the Giants rashly hand him a three-year deal this offseason. Now that’s a scenario that should have Giants fans losing sleep at night.

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Five Quick Takes from the Giants Opening Series Win Against the Dbacks

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The Giants are currently on pace to win 108 games. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s the second week of April, not late-August, so that means, well, less than nothing. The Giants just wrapped up a series victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, taking two out of three at Chase Field. The Diamondbacks project to be one of the worst teams in baseball this year and feature one of the most rotten pitching cores in the National League, so this wasn’t exactly a true test of the Giants’ early season mettle. Giants fans will take it, however. It’s great to get the season off on the winning track, but they’ll face stiffer competition against the Padres this weekend in Petco, a park the Giants never seem to play well in.

It’s hot take time, which means every lazy, sleep-deprived writer’s fallback device, the list! Here are five takeaways from the Giants’ opening series win in Arizona

The Giants have a lot of injuries. Let’s see, we knew Hunter Pence would be out for the season’s first few weeks. Now Matt Cain is on the DL again, Jake Peavy is fighting a dead arm, and Brandon Belt hurt his groin chasing a foul ball in Tuesday’s game. What is this, 2013? Angel Pagan hasn’t even gone down with his annual back injury yet.

I guess if the Giants are going to get bitten by the injury bug again, they might as well get it out of the way early. It’s disheartening to see Cain hurt again. The more this goes on, the less likely it seems that the old hoss is coming back. Belt’s injury apparently isn’t serious (he’s not going to the DL), but we had enough of Constantly Injured Brandon Belt last year. This is his fifth season in the bigs and we still really don’t quite know what he is. All I ask for is a full season of health from him to lend some answers that question.

The top of the Giants’ order might be pretty good. Nori Aoki and Angel Pagan tore it up this series, and those two combined with Joe Panik and his contact-heavy stroke might make for a damned good top of the order. A lot hinges on Pagan staying healthy, obviously, but there’s some serious high-on-base potential from these three guys.

The rap on the Giants’ offense so far is the glaring lack of pop. That is a major concern, but what the Giants do have is a collection of good contact hitters who can slap singles and doubles and put the ball in play. That might seem like something we would have pooh-poohed back in the Moneyball-obsessed 2004 era, but in this day and age of historic strikeout rates, that’s pretty valuable. The Giants need to look no further than their 2014 World Series opponent to see a team that succeeded with just that approach. The top three hitters in the batting order were the catalysts this series and if they can keep it up and not be swallowed alive by the BABIP monster, the Giants should have an above-average offense despite the lack of gaudy home run numbers.

Roberto Kelly is no Tim Flannery. Okay, so this is unfair after just a couple of games, but boy did Kelly get off to an inauspicious debut as the Giants’ third base coach on Monday. In the third inning of the opener, with Aoki on first base, Panik ripped a gapper to right-center field. Aoki tore around second and looked primed to score on the play, but Kelly threw up a late…very late…stop sign. Kelly’s delayed hold sign totally discombobulated Aoki, who turned third base, put on the brakes at the last second, and then got hung up between third and home plate. It was an embarrassing moment all around and the Twitterverse was aflutter with calls for Flan Man to come out of retirement. Let’s hope this kind of thing doesn’t become a regular occurrence.

Madison Bumgarner might be in line for a Steve Carlton 1972-type season. The Giants have all kinds of issues with their pitching staff, but good lord, Madison Bumgarner is just unhittable. The ridiculous thing is that on Monday he clearly wasn’t all that sharp and yet he still basically carved up the Dback lineup (which has some pretty good hitters, mind you) for seven innings.

Again, the Giants have a lot of questions with their starting rotation, and it takes no great stretch of the imagination to see the team imploding behind an aging, injured, and suddenly ineffective pitching staff. Which means that Bumgarner might do something like win 20 games for a crappy team. The most famous example of this kind of phenomenon is Steve Carlton’s 1972 season, when he won 27 games for a miserable Phillies team that won just 59.

I’m not saying I think the Giants are going to be bad. The pitching just worries me, and if the season does spin out of control, it’ll be the starters that do the team in. If that happens, look for myriad ESPN columns comparing Bummy to 1972 Carlton.

Congratulations, Chris Heston. Chris Heston, erstwhile projected AAA lifer, earned his first major league win on Wednesday by tossing six innings without giving up an earned run. With that win, Heston passes Robin Yount’s brother on the all-time list.

Seriously, though, it was a nice moment for a pitcher who was thrown into the mix as an emergency stopgap. Heston figures to get at least another start with the Giants going two weeks before their first off day. Hell, maybe he’s the 2015 version of the 2011 version of Ryan Vogelsong, but with his yawn-inducing minor league numbers, we should all be happy if he’s simply better than Ryan Sadowski.

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Strangers to Modest Mouse

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I can’t believe it’s actually here. When I sat down, plugged in my headphones, and closed my eyes for my first listen to Modest Mouse’s new album, Strangers To Ourselves, I thought I was dreaming. After eight years of speculation, lots of weird rumors and a few lineup changes mixed in, one of indie rock’s most celebrated band is finally back with new studio material, and not a moment too soon.

For a time, it seemed like band leader Isaac Brock had decided to follow the Harper Lee guide to releasing new stuff. Not six months ago I got on Reddit’s Modest Mouse fan community and posted a surly reply to some poster who was trying to guess when Modest Mouse’s new album was going to be released. Basically, in my grumpy Reddit comment, I complained that I had long lost any hope that a new album would ever see the light of day. Sure, there were rumors, like that of the strange collaboration between Isaac Brock and Big Boi, and, yeah, they had played a bunch of new stuff in concert. After eight years, though, as 2007’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank sailed further and further into the past and as their tour stops became more and more fleeting, it seemed that any new Modest Mouse album was a dream destined to be unrealized.

It didn’t help that Eric Judy, Modest Mouse’s original bassist, co-founding member, and heart and soul, up and left in late-2011, leaving the band without a bassist (they finally settled on Russell Higbee, formerly of Man Man). They also lost Johnny Marr, the famed former guitarist for The Smiths, who left after We Were Dead; they replaced him with Jim Fairchild. They also added Lisa Molinaro of Talkdemonic and replaced a drummer, and it was this turnover that contributed to the gap between albums (many fans are still holding out the probably futile hope that Judy rejoins the band one day).

Oh, they’ve been active in that time. They’ve still toured and they’ve still done the music festival thing*. They even broke out new songs here and there while out on tour (we’ll get to that later). So it was frustrating for fans to see them out there doing stuff and playing live while not giving their hungry fans a new album to chomp on.

*One of those festivals was Coachella in 2013. Modest Mouse’s performance on the first weekend of the festival that year has become semi-notorious because of what an utter train wreck it was. I had the misfortune of attending that disaster in person, one of the most crushing disappointments of my life as a music fan.

About three songs in, it was clear that Isaac Brock was drunk and/or high off his ass and the set devolved quickly. The sound was incredibly poor, Isaac spent a good five minutes rambling some nonsensical bullshit, then sang “Hakuna Matata” for some reason, and it all ended with the band going over their set time, resulting in them having their sound cut off right in the middle of “Float On”. For masochists, here’s the ugly affair in its entirety.

Well, it’s here, and I’ve been playing the damn thing on a non-stop loop since last Monday. Before I give my overall opinion of Strangers To Ourselves, here are some stray thoughts and/or comments that I had upon my first week of listens.

—First things first. I’ve been waiting for “Pups To Dust” for four years. Four long years. Back in April or May of 2011, the Portland, Oregon-based documentary series called Don’t Move Here (which focuses mainly on the indie music scene in and around Portland) did a ten minute tour of Isaac Brock’s house. The short video is now somewhat famous among Mouse fans, and in it we learn, among other things, that Brock is a huge fan of taxidermy. At the end, Brock and other members of the band rip into a brand, spanking new song, which unfortunately fades out after about two minutes.

With its catchy hook and upbeat, toe-tappable sound, fans took to it quickly. Personally, I loved it. The song wasn’t named in the video, so fans simply dubbed it “Give It Enough”, and the legend began.

For fans, this song became as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster. After the documentary aired, not a shred was heard or seen of the song from that point on. Not even a freaking rumor. Even as the band was breaking out new material in concert, there wasn’t a trace of “Give It Enough” anywhere. After four years, many began to lose hope that it would ever see the light of day, with more than a few pointing out that the since-departed Eric Judy was on bass in the video, so thus it may have been thrown in the dustbin.

Alas, our own personal Sasquatch was found: “Give It Enough” appears on Strangers to Ourselves as “Pups to Dust”. The lyrics have changed a bit and the tempo is sped up, but it’s the same song, and it’s glorious. Many fans are already listing it as among the best songs on the album, and it was definitely worth the wait.

For those who have never seen it, here is “Pups to Dust” in its original incarnation (with Eric Judy!):

—My personal favorite song on Strangers is a song that sounds like one of Aesop’s Fables gone horribly awry. “The Tortoise and the Tourist” is an angsty track that harkens back to Moon and Antarctica, and is the darkest on the album. It continues the album’s general theme of man’s destructive relationship with nature and is easily the most cynical of them all. That’s just the ways I likes it.

Listening to it the first time, I was immediately reminded of “The Stars are Projectors”, which, not coincidentally, is my favorite Moon and Antarctica song. Maybe it says something about me that my favorite track is one so clearly reminiscent of the old days and not one more fresh-sounding (must be the hipster in me), but I don’t think it’s a bad thing when a band, while continuing to evolve and experiment and generally leaving the past behind (as Modest Mouse generally does in this album) still offers up a track or two that reminds fans why they started listening in the first place.

—Any hardcore Modest Mouse fan is already familiar with much of the material on Strangers already. As mentioned before, the band has been breaking out new material in their concerts since 2011, and eight of the fifteen songs on the album have already been played live in that time frame at one point or another (that doesn’t include “Pups to Dust”). “Lampshades on Fire” is the oldest and most frequently-played of the bunch, having been initially broken out way back in May of 2011, and having been played a whopping 33 times in concert before the album even came out. Makes sense that it turned into the new album’s first single, I guess. It is pretty catchy.

I like to think that I have some kind of fanboy bragging rights for some of these songs, as I was in attendance at shows where a few of these songs first were broken out for the first time ever. In 2012, I was there when Modest Mouse played at Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater and debuted “Sugar Boats” (it was originally called “Heart of Mine”, according to the taped set list at the show).* They also played “Ansel” for only the second time ever.

*This show was probably the only time in my post-age-21 life that I’ve endured an entire concert stone cold sober. Stanford was re-opening the famed Frost Amphitheater after like a two-decade hiatus, and the venue was completely dry and (officially) smoke-free. Of course, that didn’t stop Isaac Brock from rolling onstage with a cigarette in hand, drinking something that most assuredly wasn’t water from a red plastic cup. For the record, the jam during “Breakthrough” at this show stands as one of the most amazing moments of any concert I’ve ever been to.

I was also at Fox Theater in Oakland in April of 2013, when they played “Be Brave” and “Shit in Your Cut” for the first time ever to an audience. That show was devoid of the usual energy the band takes with them onstage and was a disappointment, but it was miles better than the train wreck that transpired at Coachella two days later.

I distinctly remember, for whatever reason, Isaac Brock not playing the distinctive guitar riff of “Shit in Your Cut” at that show, instead merely singing vocals and not playing any instrument at all. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen Modest Mouse play a song where Isaac wasn’t playing something, and I remember being confused and scared (and drunk, definitely drunk).

For the record, the list of songs from Strangers that debuted live before the album came out is “Lampshades on Fire”, “Shit in Your Cut”, “Ansel”, “Pistol”, “Coyotes”, “Sugar Boats”, and “Be Brave”. “God is an Indian and You’re an Asshole” was teased at one show last year as a segue into “Dark Center of the Universe”, so I guess we’ll count that, too. So, along with “Pups to Dust”, that’s nine of the fifteen tracks that were already heard, in some form, before the album was released (or leaked, whatever). Yes, I typed that list by heart, and yes, I am an irredeemable dweeb. Do I get Modest Mouse nerd street cred for knowing all that?

—Here’s a very early version of “Ansel” from that Stanford show:

I loved “Ansel” when I first heard it at that venue, and the studio version lives up to my early expectations. The album version is basically the same as the early live version, with some added lyrics at the very end. The song is about the death of Isaac’s brother in a climbing accident and contains some of the most poignant lyrics in the band’s history (which is really saying something). “The last time that you get to see another soul/No, you never get to know/No, you just don’t know.” C’mon, try not to shed a tear at that.

—I’m forming a higher opinion of “Pistol” with each passing day just due to the amount of hate it’s getting from fans, and the contrarian in me is eating it up. Without a doubt, “Pistol” is the most un-Modest Mouse song to ever grace one of their albums. It’s a (clearly intentionally) trashy dance number that contains the most overtly sexual lyrics in the band’s long history. I’m guessing Brock intended it as a send up of trash club music, but if that’s not the case, I don’t know what the hell is going on with “Pistol”, and I’m clearly not the only one.

Fans online are just demolishing it, and one published album review (that otherwise praised the album) called the song a disaster. It’s definitely a shocker when heard for the first time, and I could do without whatever that is distorting Isaac’s voice, but I don’t hate it. I’d rank it low on the list of my favorite songs from Strangers, but I’m not one of the legions of fans pissing on it. It’s different, and credit the band for trying something new. Maybe it doesn’t work entirely, but I’d rather that they try something like this and swing and miss than regurgitate “Dashboard” over and over again.

—My least favorite song on Strangers is “Wicked Campaign”, which begins like a bad Kings of Leon knockoff and ends like milquetoast background music for an airline commercial. It’s not terrible, but it’s pretty weaksauce for a group that made its name with bristling vocals and high-pitched, energy-packed guitar riffs and jams. And James Mercer, I love ya, and I especially love Broken Bells, but stay off my Modest Mouse albums.

—One new song that popped up in concert during the band’s album hiatus that wasn’t included on Strangers to Ourselves was something called “Poison the Well”, a rocker that sounds straight out of We Were Dead that was played roughly a dozen times from 2011 to 2012. There was a lot of speculation that it would show up on Strangers, but it’s curiously missing. Isaac Brock has stated in recent interviews that there is still a ton of material that has been recorded for the next album, which they’re apparently going to release very soon (yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it). Maybe “Poison the Well” is included in that, or maybe it was scrapped or is being reworked. In any event, here is the song, for the curious. It’s not half-bad.

——————–

I think it was fair to be completely skeptical of Strangers To Ourselves after the long layoff and especially after Eric Judy called it quits. However, I have to say that I’m completely satisfied with this effort, and as a hardcore fan of this band for years now, I consider myself pretty hard to please. Isaac Brock has stated in interviews that he took so much time putting the album together because he didn’t want to rush out a subpar work, saying releasing an album “isn’t a race”. Better to take your time and perfect a record than paste together a mediocre piece of crap.

If that’s the case it certainly paid off. The album flows well and contains just the right combination of loud, high-energy songs (the Mouse’s trademark), with slower, more deliberate stuff like “Coyotes”. This album definitely has a latter-day Modest Mouse sound, so it certainly won’t appease that subsection of fans who refuse to acknowledge anything from Good News for People Who Love Bad News on (you know who you are). In fact, “Lampshades on Fire”, “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box”, and “Be Brave” all sound like they came straight out of Good News.

For those fans who have the ability to recognize the post-Lonesome Crowded West, lo-fi days, though, I think there’s a whole lot to like here. All of Brock’s trademark wordplay is back (“Honest to God/I was honest as hell”), and a lot of the songs just flat out rock. I absolutely can’t wait to see how awesome “Tortoise and the Tourist” will be when the band plays it live.

I once quipped (again, on Reddit) that this album should have been titled “It’s Been a Long Time Coming, but Not Soon Enough”. I’m not sure that makes a whole hell of a lot of sense, but the bottom line is Strangers To Ourselves has proven to be worth the wait and it lives up to the lofty standards that this band, considered one of the godfathers of indie music, has set for itself.

And if that isn’t happy enough news for you, it looks like we won’t have to wait another eight years for their next one.

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