An album’s quality can’t be determined on the basis of a single couplet, but there’s one on grungy North California trio Monster Treasure’s sophomore effort, II that comes close. On the third track, ‘No Hope’, vocalist/bassist Rachel Orimo has had it up to here with an ex (“here” being as far as she’s willing to extend her arm upward). “I don’t like being fucked with/ I hope that you get herpes,” she opines, nailing the inflection necessary to imbue her spite with palpable hurt and not sounding like she’s trying to rouse inattentive listeners with mentions of STDs.

The rest of the song can’t live up to that moment, squandering the momentum of Orimo’s vocal presence and Briana Granados’ guitar rip like punches into pillows for a sudden fizzling out. II is an album of momentum and promise that isn’t always fulfilled, but it does feel like an important step on Monster Treasure’s journey. Compared to their self-titled debut, which was overstuffed at 13 mostly indistinguishable tracks, II has much more of a pulse. A pulse elevated, no doubt, by heartbreak, but a pulse nonetheless.

The searing distortion and drum roll that kicks off opener ‘Searchers’ is enough to hook you in for a half hour of unapologetic fuzzy thrills. “Looking for a way out,” Orimo sings in a voice so tense, she sounds ready to follow any path out of her personal hell. She’s not looking to cover her emotional bruises with flowery image either, pithily stating “I wish I was dead.”

Speaking of flowery, the first word of the next track is “roses,” but on ‘Neon Garden’ Orimo isn’t having an eye-opening experience amongst the petals. The more she sings the track title, with each word measures apart in distance, the more apparent it becomes how un-neon garden her situation is. She also makes her first bid at sentiment on the album; “Eyes with two souls brown and black paws/ Cycle into life then gone.” It’s difficult to place what she’s referring to beyond the death of a pet, but it’s satisfying how they let it fit into the already energetic progression, rather than slowing down so the listener can be told how to feel. Orimo has a lush voice that would be welcomed in any traditional shoegaze/dream pop band, but her balance between tender and scornful serves her and the rest of the band well. II might sound dreamy, but it’s not a restful sleep.

In contrast to the effectiveness of ‘Neon Garden’, penultimate track ‘So What’ delivers a vague narrative about breaking up with an addict with muted guitar that transitions into a rather disingenuous full band number. It’s over in less than two minutes, but it runs out of steam well before it ends. The grungier ‘Heavy Real’ is a better example of a particularly short song on this album, but Monster Treasure does better when they give their songs room to develop. On the five-and-a-half minute ‘The Fall’ they stay instrumental for the first half, then fit in deadpan yet resentful vocals from Orimo (“I don’t miss you”) and make additional room for some guitar soloing towards the end.

The band is a strong unit as a whole. Orimo is something of a secret weapon, not only for her talents on guitar but also her backing vocals. On tracks like ‘Searchers’ and ‘Candy Sun’ (with its appropriately scorching guitar and sweet vocal performance from Orimo), Granados provides soul and support. There’s a real vocal chemistry between the two, not unlike what you’d find on a Breeders album. It’s not surprising that they shared lyric-writing duties on the album. Drummer RJ Mar understands how to rev up these songs from the beginning without getting hung up on showboating. On ‘Buttercream’, Mar propels the progression forward with spitfire fills, but also knows when to hold back, like in the song’s bridge. A large part of the success of ‘The Fall’ is due to Mar’s percussion, which is bouncier than usual with its cymbal presence but doesn’t undercut the words.

By the album’s end, Orimo has either begun to move on from her pain and found someone new, or she’s about to re-succumb to her worst desires. On closing track ‘Come Over’ she sounds peppy, but she’s delivering lines like “My mind is all out of place/ When you walk in, all that’s lost/ Totally erased,” and “I would like to satisfy your every burning need.” However, the proper finale occurs on slow-burning hidden track, ‘Strawberry Moon’, in which Orimo smokily sings of being “in love with someone somewhere that [she doesn’t] know.” Between those two, there’s distorted spoken word from “God,” declaring the extinction of the dinosaurs coming as a result of listening to “bad music” (in His words, “Monster Treasure”). It’s not a perfect closer, but it rounds out the album well and gives you a few things to ponder. II isn’t a perfect album either, but it’s a hopeful indication of Monster Treasure finding their voice.