S.G. Goodman has a distinctive voice that is not conventionally pretty. It serves her alt-Goth country tales of life and love well. Her Tennessee drawl and warbly delivery provide grit to the demonstrative values expressed, like when she gives a fuck to the bosses and rich folk. Her sentiments come across as nastier and more personal than anthemic.
Goodman’s not preaching. She observes the world around her and sees that too many people waste their lives or at least don’t spend their time wisely. The good life would involve centering one’s life around the love of another human being. Goodman is a queer Southerner who has received her share of abuse because of her sexuality. Her focus on romantic love seems to come as a defense mechanism. Putting her body and feelings out in the open makes them real, especially when portrayed so artfully as in songs such as “Patron Saint of the Dollar Store” and “Heart Swell”.
The Tennessee artist uses the heart as a metaphor for love and even has a love song called “Heart of It” with explicit, repeated lines like “C’mon baby, let’s get to the heart of it.” However, the two-song medley “If You Were Someone I Loved”/”You Were Someone I Loved” forms Teeth Marks‘ heart. The first part offers a wailing guitar with evocative if obscure lyrics (“No need for change, no cause for alarm / Well it’s not a needle in my baby’s arm”). The second half concerns burying one’s child. Goodman sings without any accompaniment. It’s powerful, but what it all means is a mystery.
While Goodman may have rose-colored glasses when it comes to love, she’s enough of a realist to know that it’s not always “All My Love Is Coming Back to Me”. Sometimes, love hurts, as in the title song “Teeth Marks”. Just because one may love somebody does not mean the other person will love you back is one of the many possible complications presented by Goodman over the 11 songs. While the album has its lighter moments, it’s not generally a happy record.
Goodman protests the economic system that reduces people to cogs in a machine to benefit those who already have too much on “Work Until I Die”. She knows how important it is to have food and faith and sees how easily these sentiments can be manipulated—and how it has—in the American South. She urges people to take a more activist stance in enjoying their lives.
On an existential level, Goodman posits that we only have a limited lifespan. We will all die. Goodman rages against mortality on the final track, “Keeper of the Time”, also the longest song. Our bodies will betray us. Goodman cries and screams over a din of instruments. But she’s just singing with the “cicada choir”, as she put it in another song. Time will pass no matter what the individual may do or say. Our bodies are timekeepers who let us know when our times are up.