Sharpen Your Teeth
By: Eric Greenwood
It's a fine line separating envelope-pushing experimentation and gratuitous self-indulgence. Isaac Brock has had so much smoke blown up his ass in the past two years that I doubt he could tell you which side he is on right now. As the leader of Modest Mouse, Brock has firmly cemented his band into that upper echelon of artists whose every utterance is revered as gospel. The bad side effect is, of course, that since Brock now thinks everything he has to say is gold, we are forced to endure Ugly Casanova, which is little more than a vanity project to tide obsessives over until the next proper Modest Mouse album.
If you take Sharpen Your Teeth as the superfluous wank-off side-project that it is, you won't be as offended by its utter lack of imagination and artistry. Brock's voice is impossible not to recognize. With that being the case, you'd think he'd try to mix things up a bit and show some versatility. Instead, we are treated to what amounts to a heap of Modest Mouse throwaways that any self-respecting musician would hide from the public. Meandering, aimless, turgidity abounds. The fact that Brock "collaborates" with Red Red Meat's Brian Deck and The Black Heart Procession's Pall Jenkins is merely an interiguing liner note, as the result is inaudible- even to fans of both bands.
Brock explores his mellower side with Ugly Casanova. You know, because, like, he's playing an acoustic guitar and not yelling as much and stuff. Brock's lyrics always revolve around wordplay. Sometimes it's clever; sometimes it's not. The point is that Brock's wordplay can grow tiresome, especially when it sounds like a bunch of random bullshit he wrote down after a high school acid trip: "she forgot to lay the eggs/awe shey shaw shey shaw/penny didn't have no whistle/awe shey shaw shey shaw/diamonds in the horses stable/the dancers didn't have their feet on the families in the graveyard/digging diamonds on the face of evil" ("Diamonds On The Face Of Evil"). Sounds catchy, doesn't it?
There are a small number songs where Brock actually sounds like he gives a shit. "Cat Faces" is one. Brock's moody, melodic vocal is accompanied by his own double-tracked voice in a separate vocal line, and the effect is haunting. The acoustic guitar that strums in the background is incidental, as it carries none of the song's weight. "Ice On The Sheets" is another fully-formed song that actually leaves you with somewhat of a lasting impression. Funky string pluckings bounce off programmed beats. Brock's vocals are annoying when processed through megaphone-imitating sound effects, though. Six minutes is an excessive amount of time for such a repetitive song to last, but when the pickings are this slim, you'll take what you can get.
It really is unfortunate that Deck's and Jenkins’ involvement wasn't utilized more fully. A true collaboration could have been interesting. The masturbatory excess that we are dealt instead is just plain boring. Ugly Casanova is pure ego stroking for Isaac Brock. It seems like he spent more time on the artwork than he did the music. He probably used every last scrap of paper he'd long since cast aside to flesh out the lyrics- even the ones that should never have seen the light of day. Sharpen Your Teeth is an unfortunate snoozefest posing as an album. Modest Mouse fans should be offended that such rubbish was inflicted upon them in the name of "experimental collaboration." Avoid at all costs, unless you just can’t resist that charming backwoods lisp.