David Karsten Daniels is something of a curio. Though said to posses the kind of serious compositional training that is just a flicker in Cheryl Tweedy‘s eye-shadow, Daniels spends much of Sharp Teeth sounding like someone of little natural aptitude trying very, very hard.
Ain’t nothing wrong of course with deconstructing one’s art to evaporate to some deeper truth of improvisation, yet Sharp Teeth feels somehow akin to an act of musical slumming with all the condescension that implies.
Sharp Teeth is Daniels’ fourth album, notwithstanding his recordings with his North Carolina chums in the Bu_hanan Collective. Despite Daniels subtle weaving of nineteen musicians into Sharp Teeth’s fabric, the album has all the first fumblings of a half-formed demo. And that’s a lot of ‘f’s just for one musician, never mind 19.
Sharp Teeth also happens to be Daniels’ first serious foray into the UK market via much-respected Brighton label Fat Cat, the Brit hub for such ornery luminaries such as Animal Collective, múm, and Black Dice.
As you’d expect from such company, Daniels’ other werkz are said to reflect his interest in the more outré reaches of noise theory and effects. And there’s every chance that they chart a musical sojourn of saga-like proportions, stretching from Italian hardstep to the favela cariocas of Sao Paulo. Yet it’s difficult to imagine them sounding like anything other than Sharp Teeth.
Well smart-arse, you may ask, from what pool of inspiration does Sharp Teeth draw upon then? Well, Minnows has the repetitive intro that demonstrates a certain Steve Reich-ian obsession, yet after its noisy crescendo it swiftly plateau’s into the less lofty reaches of Neil Young in all his Crazy Horse raggedness.
Young’s shadow looms large over Sharp Teeth, but his isn’t the only spirit invoked. With his Will Oldham hairline and beard of Devendra Banhart ambitions, Daniels’ has a taste for anthropological allegories and faux-innocence that never quite negotiates the strangeness or charm of either. Beast threatens its protagonist with ‘you’re going to have to look the beast in the face’, while Sharp Teeth Part 1 has the novelistic pretensions of ‘wanting to talk about planets / to romanticise human cruelty’.
But with his rather contrived and distracted stumblebum manner of singing, little convinces, much like his take on the old karmic dichotomy of ‘seeing Jesus and the devil / and they looked just the same’ (Jesus And The Devil). But just as heads is tails, it’s all been heard before. You could call it ambiguous if it’s whimsy wasn’t so trite.
American Pastime is a pleasing poke at jock culture with the score-one-for-the-little-guy refrain of “we’re not cut out for the major league”. Daniels also has a nice line in rapturous build, particularly on The Dream Before The Ring That Woke Me. Though the euphoria ignition key is triggered a number of times throughout Sharp Teeth, nothing ever quite matches the opening track.
Despite all the grumblings above, Sharp Teeth is not explicitly a bad record. It’s just that the idiom it aspires to finds its hallmark of quality elsewhere. Ultimately, Daniels just doesn’t have the sense of enquiry and revelation that the likes of Bill Callahan, Will Oldham, Chan Marshall and Joanna Newsom appear to summon at will. Or if he does, it isn’t displayed on Sharp Teeth. Where the record does excel is having the most unpleasant cover image since Phil Collins‘ Face Value. Now that really is an achievement.