Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ugly Casanova - Sharpen Your Teeth

Release Dates: May 21, 2002

★★★★★ Tracks:


Things I Don’t Remember

It got old. Flipping through this particular girlfriend’s CD travel case and seeing page after page of Modest Mouse. Proper releases, EPs, mixes of best songs, bootlegs, she had it all. Just from simply knowing someone for so long so well, it was one of those insignificant obsessions that became very significant to me. I couldn’t get myself to like Isaac Brock’s strange lisp and even stranger blend of rock and folksy psychedelia, but more than anything, I didn’t like that she had found her new favorite band after she moved out west. Modest Mouse was directly associated with our drifting apart. However on her frequent return visits, she force fed my Plymouth Sundance those countless records. And the more I heard them the more I realized resisting was futile; Modest Mouse, with their eccentric music and powerful lyricism, was in fact much more entertaining than most the crap I was listening to at the time.

Shuffling through said girlfriend’s trapper keeper of music would net you the occasional alternative. Ugly Casanova is one that comes to mind, but being as this particular band was Isaac Brock’s side project, where he got to explore outside the boundaries of his primary group, I’m not sure it counts. Modest Mouse has always skirted the fine line between the elitist indie crowd and the self-loathing emo kids, but Sharpen Your Teeth tilts more towards the latter. Brock is rarely one to write an upbeat pop song you’d put on at a summer pool party, but the tracks contained within are incredibly mellow and often down right depressing. On “Hotcha Girls” he sings, “smells like autumn / smells like leaves / You don’t know that you’ll rust / And not belong so much / And then get left alone.” In “Parasites” Brock says in his usual deadpan voice, “the parasites are excited when you’re dead / Eyes bulging, entering your head / All your thoughts, they rot,” while victorious horns sound in the background.

But Brock has become one of my favorite lyricists, taking thoughts of self-reflection and greater universal questions and turning them in to clever pieces of wordplay. There are a few gems here, none of them any better than on the opening track, “Barnacles,” when he sings, “I don’t know me / And you don’t know you / So we fit so good together because I knew you like I knew myself / We clung on like barnacles on a boat / Even though the ship sinks you know you can’t let go.” Most everything here is backed by subtle acoustic guitars, occasional percussion, and some complimentary instruments; electric guitar, bass, and horns, which all lends itself to an isolated and contemplative batch of songs. There’s a lot to like here for die-hard fans, some of it acts as a bridge to the more mainstream sounds Modest Mouse would develop down the road. But it won’t convert any skeptics. Even for a modest fan like myself, Sharpen Your Teeth is a rare journey I take. It always brings me back to a universal personal experience all of us try to forget, or as Brock says, it “marks the path back to the point of departure.”

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