Contrary to its hour-long running time, this is actually an EP-- An EP longer than most full-length LPs. Well, it actually makes sense once you understand that it’s actually rather like two EPs combined into one (which begs the question, why not just release it as a full-fledged album?). The first five songs constitute the officially sanctioned "Interstate 8" EP—Tundra/Desert from "Long Drive" rereleased in the same form and the other four either holdovers from the debut or recorded in between the first two albums—while tracks six through eleven constitute the band’s original demo, "Live In Sunburst Montana."
First, "Interstate 8." The second official release is already showing some semblance of progression. Most notably, the songs are already getting catchier. The winner is the reworking of Santo & Johnny’s "Sleep Walk" (renamed "Sleepwalking (Couples Only Dance Prom Night)"). The chord progression has been used a million other times, but that clean guitar arpeggiation (as well as that unexpected F minor chord—rather to the same effect as the verse progression of "I Want To Hold Your Hand") gives it a distinct Modest Mouse flavor. It’s also the most singable melody here. And aren’t those vocal harmonies pretty?
There's also some sonic progression going, thank heavens, helping to not make the album sound like one long song, like the debut. Check out that weird, “purring” guitar sound on "All Night Diner." Isaac’s vocals—the “have I told you, have I told you” part—are a bit odd, too. Granted, when concerning Isaac Brock’s vocals, the term “odd” must be taken with a high degree of relativity. At least it’s not all the same schizophrenic shrieking as the debut. The title cut features a cool, semi-psychedelic “soaring” guitar line playing throughout. It’s pretty catchy, too. Then there’s also "Edit The Sad Parts," which is probably the most in the style of the debut album, if a bit better. It’s jangly, relatively indiscernible compared to most given Modest Mouse songs of the early period, and dreadfully overlong (it also inexplicably ends with two minutes of silence). It’s decent, but not really noteworthy or groundbreaking compared to the first three songs.
So that’s one great song and two good songs all carving some new territory, one decent song and one repeat. Pretty good track record. If the EP consisted of solely "Interstate 8" it'd easily be worth an eight. But then comes "Live In Sunburst Montana…"
Granted, it's not a bad release, necessarily, it’s just greatly superfluous and reestablishes many of the problems of the debut. Despite the fact that they recorded prior to "Long Drive" and "Interstate 8," does the world really need demo versions of "Beach Side Property," "Novocain Stain" and "Edit The Sad Parts" (the last of which is already presented in finalized version on this release!)? It also does a great deal but help that the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired.
Which leaves three new songs. "Buttons To Push The Buttons" and "Whenever You Breathe Out, I Breathe In (Positive/Negative)" would have been nice to be found on the debut in place of, say, "Exit Does Not Exist" or "Ionizes And Atomizes." Both songs have more distinctive hooks and progressions than half of the material on "Long Drive." Alas, no such luck. At least "Broke" managed to get rerecorded later on. Good riff, hummable melody, and debatably the first appearance of the archetypical Modest Mouse “complacent loser” persona who would make later appearances in "Trailer Trash," among other songs.
It should be noted that "Interstate 8" has gained a fair amount of notoriety due to it being out of print for several years. A now-popular band in earlier, “edgier” years + lack of availability. That sounds like the formula for a cult classic release. Well, "Interstate 8" is pretty great, but in spite of the good songs, "Live In Sunburst Montana" kinda drags the whole release down to the level of the debut, only a bit better, because of the slight advancements. Don’t worry; this annoying lo-fi territory will soon pass.