David Karsten Daniels – Sharp Teeth

It’s 3 a.m. and I’m sitting in front of my computer struggling with how to start this review. The main reason that I’m struggling is research. You see, I do research every time I get a new record just to acclimate myself with previous material. The problem with acclimating myself to David Karsten Daniels’ material, though, is that every song I’ve heard is different.

Daniels seems to have musical split personality disorder. Much of his body of work consists of intimate, minimal songwriting, sung in a plaintive voice, perhaps recalling Will Oldham or Damien Jurado. The other stuff ranges from simple drum and bass accompaniment to complete and total chaos. The latter part is not as enjoyable, although it has its moments.

I point this out because if you’ve ever heard Daniels before, you will be shocked while listening to Sharp Teeth. This album is more focused than anything he’s done so far. It’s the sound of a good songwriter really bearing down and delivering on promise, much like Mirah on C’mon Miracle or Okkervil River on Black Sheep Boy.

The shift is recognizable immediately. “The Dream Before The Ring That Woke Me” could only work as the opener, as it builds on the same 5-chord progression and the lines “there is a joy that you can’t contain/there is a feeling you just can’t explain.” It starts with Daniels singing the lines quietly with his guitar while background noise mostly drowns him out, but crescendos into a near religious experience, slowly adding more singers, guitars, strings, drums, and keyboards, and fades out at the most beautifully textured moment, leading the listener into the album craving more.

From there, Daniels varies stylistically without going overboard in any one song, always keeping it together but never allowing it to be predictable. “American Pastime” could be a Maroon 5 song in an alternate universe, revolving around an upbeat staccato guitar/piano combo. The lyrics are a hilarious description of Daniels being betrayed by someone metaphorically in a baseball game and at war. “Universe Of No Parts” is an eerie but gorgeous acoustic song that references the duality of god, as does “Jesus And The Devil.”

All of this praise is not to say the album is perfect. For starters, it’s way too short. There are ten tracks, but two of them are piano interludes under 2 minutes. Also, “Minnows” and “Beast” are both slow to develop and they take up a combined 12 minutes, most of which is spent not getting to the point fast enough and not really giving you much to get excited about in the meantime (think slower Kind Of Like Spitting songs). The payoff on both is certainly rewarding, but the majority of these songs could’ve been spiced up a bit.

Daniels makes a nice recovery though, ending with the impressive “We Go Right On,” which seems like what he was aiming for with “Beast.” It’s a slow burn that reaches an awesome finish and manages to engage for all 5 minutes. Most importantly, though, the song shows that Daniels’ voice can cut through the song itself, going from the studio microphones and right through you speakers to your heart, and isn’t that what all the great songwriters do? Maybe Daniels is getting close to joining them on that plateau, but for right now, Sharp Teeth delivers on some of that aforementioned promise. Here’s to hoping he keeps it up.