Just in time for summer's sequel season, the mythical Ugly Casanova has resurfaced -- this time with lyrics and chords. Selflessly, Brock humped the musical ramblings into the studio again, committing them to tape with the help of Holopaw's John Orth, the Black Heart Procession's Pall Jenkins, and Tim Rutili and Brian Deck of Califone. You don't have to be Roger Ebert to find the Ugly Casanova plot a little, uh, suspect. But the questionable backstory hasn't stopped the band from putting out one of the most interesting records of the summer. Modest Mouse fans will recognize a familiar logic to the Ugly Casanova songs, with their entangled delivery and staccato vocals. In keeping with a project that allegedly sprang from a package of writings, the Ugly enterprise revolves around words, all of which tumble at the listener in agitated torrents of loose associations. On "Things I Don't Remember" Brock chants, "There was dressed-up alligator/ There was cum on the piano," while on "Hotcha Girls" he evokes the hazy contours of childhood: "Mama's little truck-stop rose, her dancey feet, her happy laugh/ We were dropping dimes on the ponies." Plenty of gorgeous non sequiturs abound, as on "Smoke Like Ribbons," where a grace illuminates lines such as "The lights were icy-green, buried in patterns in your chest/ A quiet shimmering little dipper, tiara-shine."
Musically, the pots-and-pan percussion and blown-out megaphonic vocals of "Spilled Milk Factory" and "Ice on the Sheets" shows the audible influence of Tom Waits. Elsewhere, there's the stamp of the Palace Brothers' deranged hillbilly pluck ("Diamonds on the Face of Evil"), Neutral Milk Hotel's lurching fanfare ("Parasites"), and the cinematic electronica of Her Space Holiday ("So Long to the Holidays").
Although the group's reach is ambitious, Sharpen Your Teeth isn't always successful. A few songs feel confused and aimless, and the album would probably be twice as good if it were half as long. But when the band hits it just right, hurtling along as Brock paints the borders of a manic world, it's easy to be swept away by both the method and the madness. At these sublime moments -- stuck in the realm between epileptic fit and epiphany -- all you can do is shake your head in wonder, waiting for the next Ugly Casanova chapter to begin.