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On its debut, This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About, Washington state’s MM delivered a sickly melodic racket. For a longplayer, however, Long Drive had too many tunes that never broke free of their influences: “Dog Paddle” respectably recalled the edginess of Mission of Burma, but “Breakthrough” sounded a bit like a Pixies parody rather than the next cool thing from the Northwest, and anyone familiar with Built to Spill likely cringed upon hearing “Dramamine.” But on this EP’s title track, MM demonstrates newfound ingenuity, maturity, and restraint. The disc’s excellent production, nimble drumming, backward guitar, and appropriately languid pacing show MM to be heading somewhere. “Interstate 8″‘s cleverly effects-laden guitar (it’s fuzzier and less brittle than Long Drive’s) allows the chorus to sneak up on us rather than bash us over the head; it’s evidence that Mouse has more tricks in its bag than the average indie-punk trio. Lyrically, Isaac Brock is still preoccupied with the same fruitless travels that shaped Long Drive: “I’m going nowhere, but I’m sure to be late.” Brock draws a picture of highway desolation filled with crummy diners and convenience stores that is less romantic than paranoid. He’s refreshingly down on what have become stock indie-rock scenes, but it’s Brock’s jarringly off-kilter vocal delivery that most distinguishes Mouse. On “I-8,” as well as “Sleepwalking,” (a reworking of the Santo & Johnny surf instrumental) his voice reaches beyond the familiar Olympian whine of other indie Northwesterners. The EP also includes 26 minutes of wound-up, edgy, and unrestrained four-track demos, a punky reminder of where Modest Mouse is from and a keen counterpoint to Interstate 8’s promising new direction.

—John Dugan