Ugly Casanova is a project with a fair deal of unclear mythology surrounding it, although it seems like it is probably just Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse doing some solo oddities. Sharpen Your Teeth, a record of slightly-unhinged songcraft, was first released in 2002, and is now reissued by Sub Pop with several bonus tracks.
Double LP £17.99 SP552
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It’s a dude from a band I’ve never particularly liked doing a solo record of slightly-treated demos! How’s that for a lede? ‘Sharpen Your Teeth’ actually continues to prove one very important thing to me about Isaac Brock and the Modest Mouse gang as a whole: I am very wrong. He is a great musician, his lyrics are often pretty fucking good, and his band are one of indie rock’s best flowing. Interestingly, this record feels like it floats free of the Modest Mouse aesthetic; it has Brock’s signature sigh-scowl at its center, but there’s no easy place for it to slot, canon-wise: it has the melancholy of ‘Moon & Antarctica’ but not the prog, the cleanliness of ‘Good News’ and ‘This Ship’ but not their theatrics, and it’s actually good, unlike this year’s most viscerally painful record, ‘Strangers To Ourselves’.
If you’re looking for a summary of Brock, this goes and goes and goes, scaling every disparate mode of expression he’s chosen to use. The record starts with something of a singer-songwriter sprawl, which is all well and good: many of Brock’s best moments come when he’s in the lurch, strumming as a way of placating and carrying on. After a few electronic effects come in to make the room a little stuffy, he reroutes with “Spilled Milk Factory”, which makes true on the Tom Waits influence Brookes’ has always threatened to have. “Hatcha Girls” buries Brock in dizzying production while strings rise like they’re abandoning him.
Brock could just as easily have been in a skronky freeform jazz outfit as the indie rock band that he eventually made it with, and there are tracks on this record that see his melodies fighting with his experimental tendencies: “Diamonds On The Face of Evil” is a wistful, sighing folk song layered into a cake with rawly recorded shouting and mumbling a la Phil Minton, plus gorgeous instrumentation from another place entirely. Whether you vibe with Modest Mouse or not, it’s hard to deny that Brock tries harder than your average indie rock icon.
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