If Johnny Solomon wrote Communist Daughter’s first album as a farewell before what he thought would be a final disappearance into the haze of drugs and alcohol that had enveloped him, he’s warily reengaging with the world on the band’s second full-length. It took a while: after the Minneapolis group released its debut, Soundtrack to the End, in 2010, Solomon ended up in rehab to treat his addictions and underlying mental illness.
He weaved those themes into the band’s 2012 EP Lions and Lambs, which was more than a placeholder but not quite the full-fledged follow-up that Communist Daughter presents with The Cracks That Built the Wall. Though there’s a wide melancholy streak running through these 11 new songs, there’s an air of redemption, too, mixed with the quiet resolve of someone determined not to lose himself again.
Working with producer Kevin Bowe (the Replacements, Meat Puppets), the band honed a lean, muscular foundation focused on guitar, bass and drums, with plenty of room for nuance: the ethereal, wordless vocal harmonies Solomon sings with wife Molly Solomon on “Strange,” for example, or the atmospheric keys that float almost on the edge of consciousness on “Keep Moving.” Solomon sounds as though he’s working free of his past on opener “Hold Back,” glimmers of organ and a chunky guitar solo framing his downhearted vocals. He sings quietly with Molly over subtle electric guitar on “Balboa Bridge,” wrestling with the tandem gloom of winter and loneliness, and pares back to acoustic guitar and a sweetly sad string part on “Sunday Morning Again.” The catchy “Beach Stalker” is brighter, like an upper-Midwest day-at-the-shore jam with echoing harmony vocals, a punchy guitar riff and stutter-step drums that move the tune along.
Solomon has said the title of the album refers to strengthening a structure by repairing its flaws. With songs so well-constructed and thoughtful, it’s clear that patching the fissures in his own psyche has made Solomon stronger, and it shows on The Cracks That Built the Wall.