Ugly Casanova

When asked in an interview a couple of years ago whether he was the fabled Ugly Casanova, Modest Mouse front man Isaac Brock immediately went all prickly. "Aw, man," he groaned. "You've got to let some things stay a mystery." Then he set the screen of his hotel window on fire with a cigarette. But now the jig is up. Ugly Casanova could only be the twisted brainchild of indie rock's tortured poet laureate.

Ugly Casanova was once a whisper on the lips of earnest Modest Mouse fans, a phantom lurking in the wings at shows, bloodied and sad and more than a little crazy. The "official" story is that Brock was approached by a slightly unglued drifter named Edgar Graham, who shared some of his songs with the band and became adopted as Modest Mouse's tour mascot. Casanova/Graham was urged to commit the songs to tape to submit to record labels, and after doing so, he disappeared.

Until last November, that is, when a bundle held together with "tape, Silly Putty and pelts of three identifiable rodents" arrived at Sub Pop Records in Seattle. These tapes are now Sharpen Your Teeth, as "interpreted" by co- producers Brock and Brian Deck, with a little help from John Orth, Tim Rutilli and Pall Jenkins (members of Red Red Meat and Califone). There are remarkable similarities between this and Modest Mouse's music, but it's pared down -- less raucous and shouty, more melancholy and redneck. The instrumentation blends Brock's unmistakable guitar with banjo, synthesizers, an occasional saw and gently clanging rhythm lines; it complements the poignant lyricism about loving and losing, as well as being born in mashed potatoes and discovering "cum on the piano."

While the construction of a haunted mythology is intriguing and amusing, Ugly Casanova doesn't need to spin a tale to get attention. These bizarre, perverse and truthful songs do all the talking.

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Melanie Haupt