Record Review - 2 July 03 2002

You can take the boy out of the woods, but good luck taking the woods out of the boy. Isaac Brock (of Modest Mouse) is no stranger to trees, coming from one isolated Pacific Northwestern logging town only to relocate to another. And with the release of Ugly Casanova’s Sharpen Your Teeth — recorded in Brock’s Oregon home studio, Glacial Pace, with fellow iconoclasts Brian Deck and Tim Rutili (both of Califone/Red Red Meat), Paul Jenkins (Black Heart Procession) and John Orth (Holopaw) — the sound of rural isolation has never whistled more clearly.

These songs were supposedly written by crazed Modest Mouse fan Edgar Graham, who, before he disappeared, went by the pen name “Ugly Casanova.” What they amount to is brooding, rustling, rhythmic underbrush over which Brock softly moans surrealist lyrics. While some of the lines are rather clever, the vocals are better when left simply as textures intertwined in the rhythms, which trudge gently, more eclectic than electric. Fans of Tom Waits will appreciate the plaintive arrangements, which reveal Califone and Black Heart Procession’s influences by emphasizing rustic, clattering loops over Modest Mouse’s more spastic outbursts. Even so, the album’s last few songs — some of its strongest — strike a subdued medium between the two.

In the end, Ugly Casanova’s Sharpen Your Teeth doesn’t stray far from what you’d expect from the assembled talent, nor does it take full advantage of the reach of each individual talent. But its rootsy path is certainly scenic and worth exploring.

Ugly Casanova plays Masquerade Music Park Thurs., July 4.??