Wed Sept 15, Crocodile, 9 pm, $8.
Now that four years have passed since former Carissa's Wierd singer and guitarist Jenn Ghetto's solo debut, Sadstyle, was released on the now defunct Brown Records label, she's no longer surprised when someone as far away as Germany inquires about a follow-up release. But she's far from blasé about her far-reaching fan base, retaining a readily discernible appreciation for everyone who made her one-woman band, known simply as S, an instant sensation.
Released in 2000, Sadstyle made an altogether stealth landing in the hearts and psyches of all who had the privilege of experiencing it ("listening" is a verb far lacking in action when it comes to describing just how deeply an effect the collection of songs had on her fans). Living up to its title, Ghetto's first album is indeed sad, but never to the point of overblown sentiment and heartbreak. It shines with the kind of steely sharpness that cuts dead with unwavering precision, often hitting a mark that leaves few guessing who each song might be about. "It was kind of nerve-wracking knowing the people in the songs would recognize themselves," she says in a voice as flinty as is its owner's physicality.
Live, Ghetto was a stark amalgam of fragility and strength--alone on stage with her guitar, Audrey Hepburn dressed in a little boy's T-shirt. She shook visibly and often broke into nervous laughter in the middle of a song, yet managed to finish her sets with the audience hanging on her every lyric. Thanks to radio play, effusive press, and a handful of shows, Sadstyle sold out of copies in a matter of months, and S became one of Seattle's most mesmerizing, if elusive, talents.
Just two weeks before her long-awaited second album, Puking and Crying, is to be released on Suicide Squeeze, Ghetto remembers her first S show with a shiver. "No one was there," she says, explaining to her new bandmate Josh Wackerly what it was like that night at the Crocodile. (Truth be told, the venue was half full.) Wackerly only recently joined up with the singer, after moving to Seattle from Austin two years ago, so the past of his new project is something he's still learning about. A few weeks after that initial show, S played a crowded Graceland as fans providing support fraught with empathetic nervousness kept so silent, not a peep could be heard until the wild applause at the end of every song.
Four years is a long time to wait for another album. Times change and so do the tastes of listeners, so it's no big surprise that Puking and Crying finds S making changes, too. Although the first track, "5 Dollars," could have come straight off Sadstyle, what follows is an entirely different sound that might prove jarring if it weren't so damn indicative of Ghetto's evolutionary creative gift. "'5 Dollars' is deliberate," says the singer, "a way to ease the people who expected another Sadstyle into a record that doesn't sound much like that at all. This one is way out there. I've lived here for a while now and I know what people are really like, so some of the lyrics are brutal."
This is where Wackerly comes in. Somehow, he convinced Ghetto to hand over her songs to him, which he then returned edited and augmented with electronic drums and keyboards. "She didn't like a lot of what I did," he says as Ghetto shakes her head in agreement, "but she came around on some [songs] while rerecording others before handing them back to me so I could change them again." Respectful of her songwriting, Wackerly has a producer's ear and thought some of Ghetto's guitar lines were just two multi-directional, even if those quick change-ups were what made her sound so singular as an artist. (Another perfect example of that aesthetic is in Crictor, Ghetto's breakneck speed-metal act with New Mexicans drummer Creighton Barrett, who also figures in the newly expanded S lineup.)
The tinkering and compromising paid off, and the new songs are heavier and more ominous than anything S has ever done. "Falling" storms and barrels forth forcefully while Ghetto's lovely soprano tumbles over and over. "100x" is frantic and sweetly regretful in tone. Then, another curveball. Album closer "The Coffin of Your True Love" is a pop song. Pop, from S? "I surprised myself," says Ghetto as she shoots a look at her partner, a sly smile lighting her pretty face.