Friday, April 25, 2008

Rockist Revisits: Ugly Casanova

There was a time early in my college years where I listened almost exclusively to Modest Mouse and Built to Spill. That unfortunately coincided with a lull in each band's recorded work -- right after The Moon and Antarctica and Ancient Melodies of the Future, respectively -- so I exhausted their old stuff quickly and lit midnight vigils for new tour dates to magically appear in my area. Didn't happen, but somewhere in that period both Isaac Brock and Doug Martsch decided to put out solo/side project type stuff. I'll come back to Martsch's at a later date (it's pretty good), but the very great Captain's Dead blog just threw up an Ugly Casanova live show and, sampling a few tracks, I'm reminded how much I enjoyed their sole release, Sharpen Your Teeth.

It was really something of an indie rock dream team -- joining Brock were Tim Rutili (lead singer of Califone), Pall Jenkins (Black Heart Procession), John Orth from the underrated Holopaw, and Chicago producer Brian Deck. What they threw together was striking because it had a shambling, off-the-cuff feel that marks so many fun side projects, but it mixed this tossed-off vibe with some typically Brock-ish subject matter (see "Parasites": "God and Satan they gamble when you're dead / Beams of light, one Sprite, the other's bourbon instead"). It was none of the extended, desert freeway guitar anti-heroics of The Lonesome Crowded West; instead it was the frosted soundscapes of The Moon and Antarctica warmed by a folksy, campfire arrangements.

Most of all, there were spectacularly good songs, ones that wouldn't have worked on a pre-2004 Modest Mouse album. Brock shares songwriting credits on a few tunes, and, honestly, those are my favorites. Orth joins him on "Smoke Like Ribbons", a pretty country tune about God knows what, and on "Cat Faces" and fan favorite "Hotcha Girls". Jenkins actually teams up for the closer "So Long to the Holidays", a spacey dirge that, while kinda cool, is a little out of step with the rest of the album.

Anyway, they actually toured after Sharpen Your Teeth came out, and, from what I've read, it was a disaster (anybody actually see them?). Kind of a shame, but, in true Rockist fashion, I take comfort in appreciating this one-off for exactly what it was.

Ugly Casanova - "Barnacles"
Ugly Casanova - "Smoke Like Ribbons"
Ugly Casanova - "Diggin' Holes"

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