In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: our favorite songs that come in at over 10 minutes long.
Modest Mouse, “Trucker’s Atlas” (1997)
Indie-rock snobs of the cardigan variety like to make fun of jam bands, which is ironic considering the genre also has a predilection for extended live versions. (Anyone who’s been to a Built To Spill show can tell you that.) But long album tracks are another matter. Case in point: Even for one of the more long-winded bands of its era—“The Stars Are Projectors” clocks in at eight minutes and 46 seconds, and “Spitting Venom” at eight minutes, 27 seconds—“Trucker’s Atlas” is the only Modest Mouse song that’s more than 10 minutes long.
“Trucker’s Atlas” extends the white-trash lyrical themes that run throughout The Lonesome Crowded West, telling the story of a long-distance truck driver (hence the title) with a sideline in some sort of drugs. The song makes reference to “doing lines and crossing roads,” evoking a scruffy, beer-bellied truck driver in an oil-stained flannel shirt and trucker’s hat (also the unofficial uniform of Modest Mouse fans in the late ’90s) doing a bump off of his dashboard so he can get to Orlando by sunrise. State names—Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Montana, New York—pass by like signposts on a week-long run (or maybe a U.S. tour).
The music rambles on amiably but steadily, making “Trucker’s Atlas,” appropriately enough, a perfect driving song. Beginning at the five-minute mark, the lyrics fade out but the band keeps playing, mimicking the rhythm of wheels on concrete that becomes so hypnotic on a long-distance highway drive. Jeremiah Green’s drumming moves into the foreground, ticking away the seconds and miles over Eric Judy’s gently rolling bass line; woozy from the journey, Isaac Brock’s guitar begins to wobble, almost—but not quite—threatening to steer the vehicle off the road. But “Trucker’s Atlas” doesn’t crash. It just keeps driving, eventually fading out as the band disappears into a dot on the horizon.