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Don’t Count Northwest Out Just Yet

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last year’s tell-tale breakups of Seattle bands Alice in Chains and Soundgarden--and Pearl Jam’s recent exploration of musically toned-down alternatives--finalized closure on the grunge movement that dominated American rock following Nirvana’s breakthrough in 1989.

But just when it seemed safe to write off the Northwest music scene as an early-'90s fluke, enter the new generation of regional pop. It’s not electronica, it’s not ska and, best of all, it’s not grunge. It’s “The Lonesome Crowded West,” an album that’s a lyrical paradise for Gen-X cynics. It’s brought to us by an underdog band called Modest Mouse, which headlines the Troubadour on Monday.

The album has been at or near the top of several key charts in the weekly College Music Journal, including the Top 200 and Core Radio. Though “Lonesome” has sold just under 10,000 copies to date, it’s big news for a record label run by three overworked employees.

“This album skyrocketed in its first couple weeks and sold 4,000 in its first month,” says James Stockstill, director of promotions for Up Records, an “anti-grunge"-oriented company formed by an ex-employee of Sub Pop, Nirvana’s original home. "[Up’s] albums don’t usually do that well that quickly.”

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So what does that mean to Modest Mouse?

“It’s all just useless information to me,” says Isaac Brock, 22, the band’s singer and guitarist. “I mean, my ego is happy we’re there, but who’s happy to see that guy?”

But it’s hard not to get one’s ego involved when the Issaquah, Wash., trio is suddenly receiving top reviews in Spin and Rolling Stone (which said that Brock’s songs “are a sign that some real vitality can still be squeezed from the post-punk mold”).

There’s no telling how long the band will keep its title as college indie darlings, or whether it will eventually make the transition into mainstream radio. But in the meantime, the light, infectious chorus of its first single, “Polar Opposites,” could be the band’s ticket to a wider audience.

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“Since they’ve done so well on the college charts, it’s justified to take it to the next level,” says Stockstill. “I think people will be receptive to it.”

Modest Mouse--Brock, bassist Eric Judy and drummer Jeremiah Green--don’t take their good fortune and strong potential for granted. Brock has paid his dues, working “lots and lots and lots of restaurant jobs.” Initially, it was to finance another strong interest--in gymnastics.

“I wanted to learn how to do two things,” he says. “I wanted to learn how to do triple back flips, and I wanted to be like Luke Skywalker and stand on one hand.” He succeeded.

Modest Mouse will remain a working-class rock band until the minimal cash flow of indie-produced records grows into a steady paycheck.

“I’m not quite sure where my money’s coming from right now,” Brock says. “The music mafia takes a percentage every week.”

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* Modest Mouse plays Monday at the Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, 8 p.m. $10. (310) 276-6168.


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