July 25, 2002

Ugly Casanova "Sharpen Your Teeth"

When you drive straight across Texas on I-20, you have to go through Dallas-Fort Worth. There's no two ways about it, it has to be done. The distance from Winter Park (where I-20 splits into I-30, which goes straight through Ft. Worth and downtown Dallas) to Terrell (where I-20 merges with Highway 80, just east of Dallas) is roughly 55 miles. While nowhere near as insane as I-30 can be, traffic on I-20 can be nerveracking.

I've had to make quite a few trips this summer, which hasn't exactly been something I've wanted to do, nor have these trips always been pleasant. Suffice to say, I've been a bit down in the dumps on that long drive, and I've had plenty of things to think about. Five hundred miles is a long time inside a car, but once I reach Winter Park, I know I'm no longer in the lonesome crowded west, because I'm close to home. Trees start to appear. Literally. Something called humidity also comes into the picture as well.

But I digress. On all of these trips east, I've soundtracked my trips with music that I love, as well as music I wanted to review for Mundane Sounds. Many times, I've listened to Dallas-area bands as I've driven through the Metroplex, simply out of tribute for the great talent that resides in this big, ominous city. It's a respect thing, and Dallas is deserving of respect. There's nothing better than blasting Tripping Daisy or Centro-matic or MC 900 Foot Jesus or even Edie Brickell as you're speeding through their hometown, and, believe me, damn it, I just feel right with the world when I pay my respect.

On one of my trips, though, I popped in Sharpen Your Teeth the solo project of Modest Mouse frontman Issac Brock. Now, other than the allusions made a moment ago, I don't really like Modest Mouse. Something about them is rather annoying, and I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's the fact that they're hyped to death, or that they are the staple band of so-called "hip" undergrads with undecided majors now, much like the Smiths were in my day.

To be fair to the Ugly Casanova, though, I decided to forget about Modest Mouse. Why should I bother to even have them in mind? This is a different band, with different players and a different kind of vibe. Besides, I don't know much about them, save for one or two of their singles and moments here and there from their albums, and from friends' attempts to make me like them. It wouldn't be fair of me to judge Ugly Casanova on the basis of Modest Mouse, now would it?

I'm glad I didn't. Of course, it's hard not to, especially since Brock's singing is so distinctive. When I hit Winter Park, and "Barncales" came on, with its broken-sounding country melody and Brock's low-key vocals tempered with slightly off-key harmonies with himself, I knew that this ride would be different. None of that indie-rock boy stuff...this would be a different ride. No, none of that Modest Mouse crap here.

When the second song, "Spilled Milk Factory," came on, though, the atmosphere was perfect. In the distance was the gray-fogged outline of downtown Fort Worth. It was a gray, foggy day in the metroplex, and this song...was...perfect. Between the odd duet style between Tim Rutili and Brock, and the wavy melody and the country-industrial beat of what sounds like a hammer on an anvil--I realized right then and there the point of Ugly Casanova--a new blues. Sharpen Your Teeth is the sound of a new Urban middle-class blues for the college educated who live in very big, imposing cities.

And then, much like Pink Floyd and The Wizard of Oz, everything started to fall into place. The quiet moments of the trip fit nicely with the quiet moments of Sharpen Your Teeth. The moments of pounding rhythm and hammer-on-metal beat came around at the same time that I hit road construction. Perhaps the best song on the album, "Things I Don't Remember," turned up at the very last moment of Dallas intensity, and quelled at exactly the moment where I-20 calms down, there's nothing but trees around, and the quiet refrain of "So Long to the Holidays" also seemed to say "So Long to the City Sprawl."

Sharpen Your Teeth is a welcome surprise from Issac Brock and his crew of blues ghouls, and it's certainly proving that Modest Mouse isn't the limit to his talents. Brock's got his pulse on the big city and the despiration and despair of living a world going technological on your ass, and he's not going to let a little thing like progress keep his dark heart down. God bless him for it.

---Joseph Kyle

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