Public Housing is a break up album; there’s nothing to hide that from the opening lines of “Seeds”: nothing to do, nothing to say. “Seeds” echoes and weeps with the clarity of the drums under Mike Dillon’s aching vocals in the first chorus. The vocals maintain in that way over the rest of the disc, contrasting against the clear fuzz and drive of the instruments — even Dillon’s rising wails sound partially underwater, a sonic echo of the way that one might feel in the wake of heartbreak. “Seeds” closes with the opposite promise of its opening lines: you always say, you always say, we’re going to leave this town. It’s a promise and the listener knows from the start of this record that the promise is broken.
“Other Side” drives harder, and claims that there’s always someone looking for new. It has the same sneer and upbeat tone as the tracks from last year’s “Brer Rabbit”, and the rising and falling guitar line that finishes it off after the bitter walk away, walk away, is a sharp anthem to the polish that you’ll find in Gross Ghost’s current live show. After catching them twice at Hopscotch, mixing songs from Brer Rabbit with songs from the then as-yet-unreleased Public Housing, almost everyone I talked to agreed that the new songs and Dillon’s blossoming as an absolutely captivating frontman were going to blow this band up. And Public Housing should, even as the cheerful ’60s garage pop sounds mix with the thoroughly modern fuck-off lyrics: it was a good idea until the wheels fell off, “You Will” hollers at the beginning of a ringing and flailing double barrel of guitars.
“Tryin” is a word we all know from break ups, and it bounces along with a relentless bass line before Dillon sings, I did what I could. Every song on this record is a sharp two and a half minutes of raw emotion, at times in conflict with the sounds behind the words, or even the happy-sounding whoa-oa-oas of “Tryin”‘s chorus, compared the final verse: I went down for you, for you, for you. “Howlin” could nearly be the dirty little brother of a Buddy Holly song, with all the bitterness and grunge that Holly never had: it’s why I howl at the moon. It’s infectious, and it walks that fine line that great-not-good songwriting does, not quite bitter and not quite cruel and not quite not sarcastic and smart-mouthed, either. Public Housing is sharp and clever, sad and hopeful, all swirled together in a compact package of emotionally raw and technically masterful fuzzy guitar pop songs.
Gross Ghost celebrates the release of Public Housing tonight at the Cat’s Cradle back room, with Last Year’s Men and Schooner. Doors 8:30, show 9:30, tickets $10 day of and that gets half-off on a CD or vinyl copy of the album.