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Ugly Casanova | Sharpen Your Teeth (Sub Pop)
Those of you familiar with the direction Modest Mouse have taken in recent years will not be too surprised when confronted with this sprawling, wildly idiosyncratic album from that band's main man Isaac Brock. And while Brock's hysteric vocal delivery and angular take on Americana is at the forefront of this release, his talents are far from the only ones on display here. Although Ugly Casanova is a moniker for Brock himself, it seems to take on the function of a band name here, what with the heavy presence of some very special guests performing on most songs and even co-writing material. Among those featured are Califone's Tim Rutili, Holopaw's John Orth, the Black Heart Procession's Paul Jenkins and Chicago's alt.country all-rounder Brian Deck, and frankly, one wonders how such a diverse cast of individual talents managed to come up with something as panoramic, fully realised as this without murdering each other in the process. Never content with staying in one place, this album shifts restlessly between the furious and the considered, between Captain Beefheart, Smog and Giant Sand, sharing with all of those the constant struggle to try and reshape folk music conventions in all manners imaginable. Performed on banjo, guitar, mandolin, and a wide variety of percussive instruments, 'Sharpen Your Teeth' is marked by a remarkable looseness in its approach and a heavy reliance on found noise and casual recording. It all has the air of a jam session gone right, a freestyling Americana project, where Brock's beat poetry becomes the ravings of a mad Southern preacher, and where the band seems to learn the songs â?? and indeed the actual playing of their instruments â?? as they go along. The fact that the album is chock full of hauntingly beautiful songs and captivating narratives seem to owe as much to chance as to actual craftsmanship, but that element of planned casualness only adds to the beauty and intrigue of this impressive and hypnotic album.
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002