Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Ugly Casanova 

Sharpen Your Teeth (Sub Pop)

Wednesday, Jul 10 2002
Once upon a time, there was a very aggressive Modest Mouse fan -- one who was so obsessed with the indie rockers that he crashed through their dressing room window. Somehow sensing potential in the unsettled stranger (who introduced himself as Ugly Casanova), Modest Mouse singer Isaac Brock took the man under his wing, eventually drawing inspiration from Ugly's writings for the Mouse's 1999 effort, The Moon & Antarctica. Then, having delivered his message to the world, Casanova disappeared into the darkness of the urban forests, and everyone lived happily ever after. Sort of.

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.

About The Author

Chris Baty


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"