by Ben Waldman
To survive as a band for seven years is one thing, but to leave listeners wanting more is another. Animal Teeth, which in August released its (likely) final album Nice Cave (Disintegration Records), managed to do both.
When I turned 18 in 2013, as a late-comer to the city’s music scene, Animal Teeth—now featuring Stefan Hodges on guitar and vocals, Ian Ellis on drums, and Adam Nikkel on bass—was one of the first Winnipeg bands I saw and heard, and one of the first that made me never want to miss a show. I don’t know them personally, but I feel like I do, and that’s exactly what any band should hope for.
But Nice Cave is far from a mailed-in finale or a rehash of well-trod territory, and it shows off Teeth’s considerable range as an ensemble. It’s as sharp and soft as anything the band has released, with lyrics that punch you in the gut and place a pillow under your head before you crash to the ground. On opening track “Dada (Springtime),” about the city’s first warm days after a bitter winter, Hodges croons, “Everyone looks so dumb smiling, as though they hadn’t thought of doing it before,” which is how I felt while listening to him sing it.
On “Dredgeman,” the band lets loose, the only track with instruments too loud to hear the lyrics. At 2:36, it’s lean, with a bigger emphasis on twang, but Animal Teeth’s greatest strength remains in lettings its lyrics float above and between the bursts of sound. That magic happens on ‘Like a Saint,” which features stand-out alto-sax from Kathryn Kerr and witty, self-deprecating poetry circling around it.
At times, Hodges leans into conversational talk-singing a la Bill Callahan (TV Blues), with lyrics—”Mostly I’m just missing things that I lack”—reminiscent of the dearly departed David Berman, a double Drag City comparison, I know. Album closer “Cave” pulls the ribbon tight around the band’s seven-year run, with Hodges plaintively wondering what’s coming next. “It always hurts me not to know where I’m supposed to be,” he laments.
Regardless of what comes next for Animal Teeth’s members, the band has left a sizeable bite-mark on Winnipeg music, and has been right where it should have been. I wish them well in retirement, and have my fingers crossed for a reunion.