Full of Light and Full of Fire is a tiny masterpiece, each song an exquisite miniature. Like Patsy Cline stranded in a desolate roadside motel, the name of which lies on the tip of her tongue, McArdle makes opener "Water Surrounds" a harrowing trip to the bottom of some dark place: "There's a tear in the free paper / Cracks in the desk bell / My new lover, the anteroom of hell." Bracy's characters feel no less banished, finding solace in "the margins in revisions / where we both first made our living," as they do in "Catch a Collapsing Star," a literate, honky-tonk anthem for the urban down-and-out.
But it's a veiled protest rocker like "Golden Boy (Torture in the Shed)" that really shines, even as it unleashes a flurry of hideous Abu Ghraib-style imagery and garroting guitar lines. The Mendoza Line sure knows hot to wrap up an album, too, as evidenced by "The Lethal Temptress" and "Our Love Is Like a Wire," hardened ballads that deserve to be heard over the din of whatever trendy alt-pop is taking up too much space in our CD racks and iPods.