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Dirty Ghosts’ Fresh Start 

Wednesday, Nov 4 2015

Being in a marriage gave Allyson Baker a sense of security. But when she divorced local hip-hop star Aesop Rock, she experienced a new sensation. "I didn't care what was going to happen to me," she said of the 2011 breakup. "I wasn't worried about being alone. I sort of embraced it."

Baker, the leader of San Francisco's Dirty Ghosts, a new wave, electro-punk outfit, did more than embrace it. For the first time, she drilled into these emotions, fueling the messages behind songs on the band's newly released sophomore album Let It Pretend. The title track exploits her dissolved marriage, leading listeners through emotional verses and sharp hooks on a synth-soaked soundscape. The closing track, "Moving Pictures" feeds the heart of rebellion, romanticizing free living with raging guitar riffs. On Nov. 7, Baker and Dirty Ghosts bring their racing rhythms to Brick and Mortar.

"I was given my life back," Baker said. "When I was married, I was going along with what was happening. I was just letting the situation control my life and not taking control of it."

On the band's 2012 debut Metal Moon, which Aesop produced, Baker said she lacked a focused inspiration, and the album — although well-received — suffered because of it. "Having the divorce and reflecting on it, I started tapping into things that I wasn't aware of at the time," Baker said. One thing she wasn't aware of was her voice — the path to which appeared after her marriage ended.

Dirty Ghosts started as an experimental project: Baker and bandmate Carson Binks, who had played together in the now-defunct Parchman Farm, jammed to drum loops that her ex-husband Aesop created. Over a roughly five-year period with a rotating band lineup, Metal Moon was pieced together — a post-punk energy placed over mostly hip-hop beats.

The follow-up, Let It Pretend, isn't a far departure from the brand of rock established on the debut release. However, with a solidified lineup, Baker was able to harness inspirations into a cohesive album. But it took a bit of time.

Drummer Tony Sevener, who played in Bart Davenport's electro-funk act Honeycut, was later recruited just before a Noise Pop show in 2013. The band's drummer at the time quit prior to the concert, and Sevener stepped in to cover the show. From then on, he was hooked.

"I just felt like there was a loaded spring of potential there that was waiting to make good," Sevener said of Baker's talents. "I never intended to take it that far with them. We just clicked musically. It became clear and I kind of got sucked into it."

And it was Sevener's musicianship and taste that inspired Baker's new musical perspective. The two drew inspiration from new wave and punk acts such as Duran Duran, Devo, and The Stranglers. Sevener recalled the writing process, saying Baker had grown tremendously in a year's time. "I feel like she's just come into her own unique sound as a guitarist and she really found her super unique voice," he said. When she would play a new riff or a new melody, he would respond, "That sounds like you. You are getting your own style and that's killer," he said.

That style is one that is rich in rhythm, peppered throughout Let It Pretend. There is a bond between the sounds and the musicians making them, which is evident as the album kicks off with the dance-rock piece "Some Kids," and cuts with choppy guitars on "Battery." The coiling melodies and a riff-rock energy that drive tracks "Quicksand Castle" and "Cataract," highlight how the instruments feed and build off of each other.

The lyrical content, Baker said, is a balance of her emotions. And the vocals are simplistic and purposeful, exuding a strong feminine presence driving the record home. On stage, Dirty Ghosts recreate the same effect of call and response. "There is a primal energy you have with your bandmates," Baker said. "Nothing else in the world puts me in that zone."

That energy is what intrigued psych-pop artist Kelley Stoltz, who is taking Dirty Ghosts on a month-long European stint, kicking off with the show Saturday. "The mark of a good band is that they sound good in little clubs or in big clubs," Stoltz said. "It's kind of like, no matter what system they're running through, they can transcend a bad monitor, a bad speaker, or a crappy sound guy — they just sound good."

Baker is ready to be in her element, doing what she does best. She has a story, and when she takes the stage Saturday night, she will demand that it's heard. "I thought I knew what was going to happen. I thought I knew what my future was going to be," she said. "The reality is that you don't know what's going to happen. You just don't know."


About The Author

Adrian Rodriguez


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