On Metal Moon, the first album from San Francisco-based Dirty Ghosts, there are moments of both supreme clarity and total cloudiness. The cover art is similarly black and white, though it also features two gray-blue strips on adjacent TVs. If the third color stands outs for a reason, maybe it speaks to frontwoman Allyson Baker’s flatly cool emotionalism, as well as the band’s clean—not formulaic—execution of dirty music, both major aspects of the Ghosts’ unique debut LP.
Outside of their name, let’s understand ‘dirty’ as the mix of elements that make up the band’s sound (pre-distillation), because there are a lot. In an interview with the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Baker—former guitarist for Parchman Farm and Toronto punk outfit Teen Crud Combo—said of New Age, the 1980 single by experimental duo Chrome, “It’s perfect.” But Dirty Ghosts contain more than harsh riffs and electronic feedback; there is groove (“Shout It In”), grit (“Katana Rock”), style and, above all, a singularity that somehow draws from every orbiting influence at equal measure.
Bass is provided by Carson Binks, another ex-Parchman Farm member, who worked on a couple of tracks for Aesop Rock’s 2007 album, None Shall Pass. Interestingly, Baker married Rock in ’05, and the rapper/producer heads the programming work on Moon. For a band that sounds like no other, his contribution is welcomed and doesn’t tip the music’s focus in any one direction. However, the only song where Rock’s drums are instantly recognizable is the album highlight, “Steamboat to Concord.” On it, Baker sings over a stop-and-go break, her voice draped in warm reverb, evoking some sort of late ’90s, pre-Napster r&b.
The majority of Moon‘s 10 tracks are worth noting, but at 38 minutes, you should really listen for yourself. In such a short time, the greatest thing about the variety shown across the album is that it maintains a central mystery about it. There’s one pulse going through all the songs, but good luck figuring out what it could be; you can feel it, but it might prove difficult to articulate it as clearly. It’s almost like there is a defensiveness that underpins Baker’s otherwise compelling attitude, as if she’s telling you “come in” and “get away” at the same time.
Still, despite (and because of) its whirlpool of originality, this album manages broad appeal for those looking for it. There’s chugging ’70s psych rock, punk-funk (“Surround the Controls”), inviting rhythms and an irresistibly catchy chant on Moon‘s opener and fierce lead single, “Ropes That Way.” Here, Dirty Ghosts successfully channel the world that existed before it, resulting in music that will apply itself to you whether you’re dancing or ducking for cover. Metal Moon could be the soundtrack to an hour from now.