Music News

Ugly Casanova

Modest Mouse front man Isaac Brock has never been reticent about his psychoses. He'll freely talk of the demons in his head that speak to him, and allude to his confrontations with the devil. He's something of a neurotic visionary, clinically sane compared to notorious alt-rock weirdoes Daniel Johnston or Wesley Willis, but prone to mental states that the rest of us will never understand.

Modest Mouse, through Brock's songwriting, has been exploring various strata since inception — the stark earthly terrain of This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About; the strip malls, highways and regional madness on Lonesome Crowded West; and the nether regions of the universe on The Moon and Antarctica. Now on his long-in-the-making debut solo (almost) LP, Sharpen Your Teeth, Brock (as Ugly Casanova) has composed a dense mindfuck journey through his own inner time-space continuum.

Blessed with immense talents of evocation, Brock sinks the listener into a montage of city-girl vignettes, parasitic fatalism, and existential realizations. With the assistance of friends Brian Deck (who co-produced the album with Brock), John Orth, Tim Rutilli (Califone/Red Red Meat) and Pall Jenkins (Black Heart Procession), he's created a sonically complex, multilayered cacophony of twanging, pahrumping, and exclamatory harmonics.

Brock's aural travails as Ugly Casanova range from sinister to melancholic, some suggesting recidivism to Modest Mouse's more delicate moments, like the space-rock crooner "So Long to the Holidays." Several tracks have a subconscious honky-tonk flair, fitting accompaniment for the pessimism expressed, for example, on "Hotcha Girls," where he sings "Suck it up, take a ride and take a walk/Don't you know that old folks' homes smell so much like my own."

On "Parasites," the insistently strummed march driven by bah-rump-pum-pum trumpets, Brock busts out, with a literary flair, an indictment of the bourgeois: "It was hot and time was sticking to my skin/We're all a punch line to a joke that they won't let us in on/And all your thoughts, they rot." The declarative "Pacifico" is new territory for Brock, but instantly familiar to anyone who's spent quality drunken time listening to Tom Waits. Toward the end of Sharpen Your Teeth, Brock even sheds humor on his oft-reported (and witnessed) prodigious substance intake on the playful "Things I Don't Remember."

Sharpen Your Teeth could easily pass for a new Modest Mouse LP on first inspection, but its mental instability and near-psychedelic tapestries of sound soon dispel that idea. It sounds nothing like Pink Floyd, but approximates Floyd in its subtleties and sonic nuances; every listen to the album exposes a quirk not previously noted. As for Brock, as long as he can produce records this ambitious and complex, we're better off if he avoids any psycho-corrective medication.