! = recommended
* = all-ages
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This is Solvents' least stylistically ambitious release -- and that is a very good thing. The band hasn't gone purely minimalistic in working with Karl Blau for one day in his Anacortes studio; the absolutely luscious violin of Emily Madden honey-drips upon her husband Jarrod Bramson's salty sighed-vocals in a way that could never be described as overly restrained. But the duo are sounding gingerly tight and scrupulously aware of their best qualities in the seven songs that make up Ghetto Moon, and every song could be a gentle giant hit. They've left the cut-and-paste scruff of oblique fanzine rock for cafe troubadour waltz, august vocal melodies partnered with bardic elucidation. And yet not without coy humor ("I'm so obscure, and bitter cool, and long to come undone").
The Port Townsend, WA creator-couple have released, over time, a flurry of diverse-sounding cassettes and CDs and Internet-mixes, and their last planned full-length, the appreciated forgive yr. blood, showed they could be a lo-fi Basement Tapes jukebox of styles. Ghetto Moon is much different: it's all stately-gorgeous, if denuded to Jarrod's mellifluous lead vocals and Emily's complimentary harmonies, truly deeply sung melodies that are going to stick with you as much as her lovely fiddling.
In pleads like "Are You Gonna Wait For Love To Leave You?" and mileu observations like "Blaine St. Song," there's a lot of pining against nostalgia here, and love as sacrifice, and being "tired of living on your knees." Frankly, it doesn't sound like anyone's going anywhere fast in these songs, because they're sung and played by a couple who sound like their work will be reissued in deluxe packages every several years (so you hope it's not autobio). "Fuck open mic, let's go look at the stars," is how the whole thing begins on the most pop-sounding gem, "Don't Expect To Find Love." Albums made thirty years ago would be all about these kids getting the hell out of Dodge, but we've come to the end of the world in the Pacific NW, as Robert Anton Wilson once said about the region, where east has nowhere else to go and you might as well stay in a tourist-trap and play out the rest in house shows and washing dishes for a collective and staying under the radar from various avenging modern arch-angels. These are the grand-kids of Blood On The Tracks, the neo-gypsy sons and daughters of slaves traded in miles trod by imported Spanish boot leather. And in the happy quick visible breaths of near-kisses outside the club, there's reason to stick around. For now.
Please buy this if the Decemberists have gotten too Moog-musical theater for you, if The Shins seem to have crespecularly curled into an insular ball shaking tiny angry fists at those who have made them successful, or if you wish that Phil Ochs had made a love-affair album between his raging political broadsides and mystical art-folk. Billy Bragg did an album a little like this once, Workers Playtime, about boys and girls and Valentine's Day gone awry and people asking "What's up with him?" when he left the room, and it's my most cherished of his. Even scarved soldiers at the food bank and house-bound activists publishing poetry and vegan restaurant workers need to hum about "waiting for my girl" ("Golden Chains"), and they've never had a better new record to do that with than Ghetto Moon.