Dirty Ghosts: Playing on Prefix

Written by

Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog in which writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers each week.

Dirty Ghosts’ rocking, unique sound is a little tough to pinpoint. It’s groovy and loose, but with a tight, deliberate grip thanks (in part) to programming work from Aesop Rock.

Outside of that, Dirty Ghosts isn’t anything centric: not too steeped in any one instrument—although frontwoman Allyson Baker is an ass-kicker of a guitarist—and not married to any particular style. Baker used to play guitar in the now-defunct SF rockers Parchman Farm, but she’s stepping out with Ghosts’ new LP, “Metal Moon–produced by her husband Aesop Rock–to be released via Last Gang Records on Feb. 21.

Elements of funk, rock, hip-hop and ‘80s new wave sit politely next to each other on “Moon, and pointedly cool bass lines drive a number of tracks. Take “Shout It In,” which received the album’s first video treatment, for example. It’s got a danceable intro, a break that has since yielded a remix courtesy of Baker’s husband, and vocals you can sign along to—you know, if you want.

It’s got a melting pot appeal that is carried out exceptionally well—not inaccessible in the least, but still undeniably unique. If it reminds you of anything, it will be difficult to recall exactly what.

The music is meticulously crafted. When I first heard it, I was tempted to say it sounded a little like post-punk (if only for its Gang Of Four-like precision), but that comparison is a bit limp, especially given the drastic difference in vocal deliveries. Baker, unlike plenty of successful and unsuccessful women fronting rock outfits before her, doesn’t succumb to shouting, growling or droning on the microphone.

Steamboat to Concord”, one of Moon’s best beats and a major highlight on the album, is an unexpected and reverb-tinged R&B jam.

On the other hand, “Battle Slang” sounds like “Postizo”, a song from guitar experimentalist Marc Ribot’s 1998 Cuban jazz album. And “Beast Size,” Moon’s aptly placed closing track, follows Baker through a series of oh-oh-oh’s on some of the LP’s most vulnerable minutes. (Stream/download another track, “Ropes That Way”.)

In addition to Baker, the Dirty Ghosts live band will include Erin McDermott, Nick Andre and Ben Tuttle.

Right now, the group is set to play its first big show Feb. 23 at the 20th anniversary of San Francisco’s Noise Pop Festival. The band website says more dates will be announced soon, and they better be: “Metal Moon is too good not to tour behind.

— By David Padula