Modern Mod has recently been blowing up the indie-rock scene with their impressive live shows, and charting on Stanford University radio. Despite the youth of the members of Modern Mod – entirely 18 years old, and younger – their debut album, Tunnels, show an impressive craftsmanship, and demonstrates the maturity of their abilities.
At the heart of the album, Tunnels operates as a love poem to idealism. Each track seems to venerate the principle elements of youth. From the opening track, “Don’t“, Modern Mod embodies the careless attitudes of summer. The catchy riffs, courtesy of guitarists, Maximilian Werner, and Calem Pocernich, provide a refreshingly retro sound, reminiscent of the surf sounds of the 1960’s. At the same time, the vocals, of Emily Massey, provide an airy, breathless sound that elevates each of Tunnels tracks. The contrast between the ‘lazy summer’ hooks, and the powerful vocals of Massey provide the album with its most interesting sounds. However, this would not be enough to make this music interesting, and driving, were it not for the combined efforts of drummer, Ronnie Clark, and bassist, Livy Kleinfeldt.
The power of Modern Mod’s rhythm section can be best heard on the tracks: “Monday Mornings“, “Papercuts“, and “Undefined”. Each of the tracks feels as though there is a three-way power struggle occurring between the, Beach Boys-esque, guitars, the bombastic vocals, and the pounding rhythm section, which would initially appear to be in diametric opposition with each other; however, the three pieces operate in tandem and give Modern Mod their sound. Modern Mod’s greatest strength, and weakness, is that they wear their influences on their sleeves, for the whole world to see.
During just one song, “January” elements of The Pixies, The Strokes, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Sonic Youth, and The New Pornographers can be heard. This is not necessarily a negative thing. This melding of different stylings, and genres, give Modern Mod an interesting sound. However, this makes it difficult to uncover what ‘the Modern Mod sound’ in a distinct way. Truly, the most successful tracks on Tunnels are the ones that sound the most like original works inspired by the band’s musical heroes, instead of obeisances – notably “Papercuts”. The seeds of a unique sound in the indie world is clearly present in Modern Mod’s debut album, which the band will undoubtedly develop soon – with the amount of talent available to them.
However, the power of idealism occasionally fall short. Some tracks, while enjoyable to listen to, ring hollow. Modern Mod touches a number of different themes and ideas on Tunnels, but never explores any of the themes in an overly enriching way. Tracks like, “NYC“, and “Nostalgia“, don’t feel as genuine as the other tracks, due to their insistence on an easy fix to life’s problems. “Why don’t I move to New York City, where I know that, maybe, I can start up anew,” Massey croons on “NYC“.
This theme of escapism is touched on in multiple places throughout Tunnels, but is never a defined concept. From wishing that a relationship could have an easy fix “Like John and Yoko”, to expressing the sentiments of being trapped in a bad place, the lyricist of Modern Mod explores deep anxieties that are very universal. Ultimately, what could have been a profound message on dealing with life’s adversities ends up feeling more like wish-fulfillment, the intent of the lyrics is admirable, but falls short of the intent.
However, sometimes art doesn’t have to have a deeper message in order to be revolutionary. Modern Mod showcases what a group of dedicated, talented, and passionate musicians can do with a love of music. Each of the tracks in Tunnels provides an enjoyable experience; many seem to be well-suited to being blast out of a radio, driving at high speeds with the windows rolled down. Tunnels is the album to listen to while having the summer of your life.