The dichotomy between breathy vocals and heavy-handed alternative pop-rock instrumentals in Little Coyote’s “The Trouble With Teeth” is both catchy and cathartic; it’s often difficult to tell whether the consistently mournful feeling is from foggy vocals, hard instrumentals, or less-than-sunny lyrics. It’s an inviting sadness, however – rather than alienating, Little Coyote welcomes you with open arms and an unexpected musical accessibility, promising mutual understanding that things aren’t always going to be okay.
Lead singer and songwriter Teagan Johnston’s vocals are somewhere between velvet and silk; they’re smooth and sturdy but a little bit wispy. Her cool airiness adds to the mystery and melancholy of the album, although rarely, that breathiness can take away from Little Coyote’s sound, like when her vocals simply feel unsupported rather than suave in “Daylight Twilight.”
Johnston is joined by two other band members to form Little Coyote – Byron Patterson and Mike Poisson – but the music on “The Trouble With Teeth” seems intricate for only three musicians. Instruments in “Teeth Rot,” for example, feel as though they’re each functioning independently of one another, yet they operate together. Johnston’s piano often conveys a heavy sense of closure by alternating between major and minor chords.
Tension builds throughout individual tracks, breaking in a much-needed release, like in “Teeth Rot” or “Medicine,” and adding another layer to the already wavelike sound of the album. In other songs, the chorus is a surprise burst of sound and speed – “Annie’s Dead” is a typical example; a standout line is repeated in both lazily slow and suddenly frantic sections of the song (“And Annie’s been dead for a while, but you’re still here, spitting out memories, putting down fear”).
“The Trouble With Teeth” closes with its title track. The final song is an appropriate ending; the waves have stopped and all that remains is Johnston and her piano. She croons about a striking teeth-related metaphor for a relationship with parallel lyrics (“How long till they fall out, as teeth often do, and leave me alone?” and “How long till we fall out, fall out, and you leave me alone?”). It’s refreshing, after the nine previously-dark tracks, and wraps up the album with no loose ends left untied.