I picked up Sharpen Your Teeth from a bargain bin a few years ago and have largely ignored it since. In what is slowly becoming a recurring theme of my reviews, it’s one I wish I’d listened to more.
Ugly Casanova are made up of members of Califone, Holopaw and The Black Heart Procession, among others, but it’s immediately obvious that the band is very much Modest Mouse singer Isaac Brock’s side project. He has such a distinctive voice that it’s difficult not to feel that this is just an MM offshoot, but so many of the other sounds are so ingrained to that band that Sharpen Your Teeth could have been released as a Modest Mouse odds and ends collection and nobody would have batted an eyelid. Even the first noise you hear is a backwards guitar that could be straight off The Moon & Antarctica.
I love Modest Mouse though, so I don’t mind the similarities, and it’s not all the same anyway. It’s a lot more stripped back, and a bit more experimental, but there are still some great songs. “Hotcha Girls” is beautiful and the stomps, grunts and unintelligible chants of “Diamonds On The Face Of Evil” sound like Tom Waits getting lost in deepest darkest redneck country. This is a good thing.
The album closes with two of its strongest tracks. “Things I Don’t Remember” is an acoustic stomper that gradually grows by adding spiky strings and backing vocals, threatening to explode but never quite getting there. It collapses and segues into “So Long To The Holidays”, where the song’s title is repeated over a haze of softly distorted feedback. It reminds me of “Lover’s Spit” by Broken Social Scene and is quite different to everything else on here, but all the better for it. It means the album ends on an air of beautiful resignation.
Sharpen Your Teeth is a lot better than I thought it was going to be, with some songs sounding like lost Modest Mouse classics. While the similarities to that band are quite apparent, it stands up well on its own and is one I’ll definitely pay more attention to in the future.