Ugly Casanova – Sharpen Your Teeth

Ugly Casanova
Sharpen Your Teeth

Whenever the principle songwriter of a great band decides to work on a solo project, he/she has a difficult task ahead of them. Now free from the compromises that unavoidably come with being part of a band, how does one keep the newfound liberty from turning into overindulgence? On the other hand, if he/she isn’t going to take a different direction or break new ground with their work, why go solo in the first place? It’s a tough balance to achieve and maintain. From the perspective of the fan it’s a fine line as well. We’re excited about the possibilities of a solo record from an artist we love, but we also don’t want to be completely alienated by an album of inaccessible songs or too much experimentation. Well, for anyone already reasonably acquainted with Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock’s distinct songwriting and sound, it’s pretty safe to see that any such concerns can be laid to rest following his first solo effort, Ugly Casanova’s Sharpen Your Teeth.
Though the opening track, “Barnacles,” doesn’t stray all that far from the moody niche that Modest Mouse achieved on their last EP, Everywhere and His Nasty Parlor Tricks, Brock wastes little time thereafter to start pushing his borders. Beginning with the second number, the brilliantly titled “Spilled Milk Factory,” the instrumentation and arrangements on the album become as motley as one might imagine Brock’s own company to be. Kitchenware, blocks, and heavy chains often push their way to the front of the rhythm section. Synthesized string sections unobtrusively decorate the songs, horns climb in through the window from time to time, and loops and computer noises buzz about in layers. At times the album is so full and sonic it isn’t difficult to imagine Nigel Godrich having had a hand in the production. At the same time, songs like “Diamonds in the Face of Evil” are more than a little reminiscent of Tom Waits’ later work, an artist whose influence is felt throughout the record.
This is not at all to say that Brock’s signature sound isn’t present however. On the contrary, a number of the songs, most notably of which is “Cat Faces,” are evidence of Brock’s constantly maturing, rather undeniable gift for matching evocative, cryptic lyrics with simple mournful melodies that linger in your head at least for days . . . and sometimes forever. The washy, thick, and mesmerizing quality of the last song, “So Long to the Holidays,” is reason enough alone for purchasing the album, and leaves you with the feeling that you have in fact finally heard something that you’ve never really heard before. From Brock, or any one else.
Also contributing to the success of Ugly Casanova is Brock’s collaborating with other friends and musicians (including members from both Califone and Black Heart Procession). Of particular interest is/are the other vocalist(s) on the record, whose delicate country warmth provides a welcome contrast to Brock’s sharper, more curt approach.
This is one of those records that grows on the listener with a slow but consistent gain. One could hear it once and discard it without a quip of the eye, but the more careful listener will enjoy spin after spin of uncovering lovely little finds amongst its layers that keep him or her coming back for more.