Despite its status as David Karsten Daniels’ “first widely available record”, nothing on Sharp Teeth stands out as tentative or immature in any way. A little further delving reveals that Karsten Daniels has in fact recorded three albums prior — and, to its credit, Sharp Teeth is the kind of record that inspires the hunt for said albums.
Karsten Daniels’ vocalisations recall those of Grandaddy, but less twee; Phil Elvrum (Mt Eerie/Microphones), but more forthright. Instrumentally, there’s a whole lot going on – the subtle influence of donk-donk British piano pop (particularly on ‘American Pastime’); folk music of the American South; late-nineties slow-core; the rich horns of big band jazz. It’s all tied together by shimmering, swelling string arrangements which manage to be grand yet not grandiose, courtesy of Daniel Hart, who has worked with The Polyphonic Spree among others. Beneath all of this, synths bubble so softly as to be almost unnoticeable. The 19-musician-strong mix is expertly balanced.
Sharp Teeth has a richness beyond its sound, though. Karsten Daniels transcends the oft-tedious singer-songwriter format by way of insightful lyrics which ponder the spaces between the will and actions of people, avoiding the tired “I this” and “I that” blathering of all too many folkies. His voice is also a little weak – thin – but in a good way – it engenders a kind of disconnectedness that eschews the whole speaking-right-to-my-soul intimacy of the genre, and foregrounds the music, which evolves from sparse steel-string and accordion to slowly crashing melodic waves. ‘Jesus and the Devil’ is the record’s most lyrically catchy, while album closer ‘We Go Right On’ perfectly captures the terrain which Karsten Daniels is willing to cross in the name of song.
If you hadn’t already figured it out, I like this album. I really like this album.