The title of Sugar Ransom‘s sophomore album, Hopefiend, can be read two ways. One implies something nefarious, a villain who preys on hope and the hopeful. The other is more upbeat, if only slightly, suggesting an addict desperate for a shot of life and sustenance. Even the name “Sugar Ransom” comes loaded with dueling meanings: one sweet, one insidious. It’s that beautiful desperation and ambiguity that Sugar Ransom—a.k.a. Sarah Marie Gilbert—and her backing band thesecretpistols so effortlessly tap into throughout Hopefiend, an assured, rock-solid collection of warm, sepia-toned folk and spiritual, steely-eyed Americana.

Opener “Patron Saint Of The Working Poor” is an example of the latter, a bold plea to the heavens to “keep us safe from needing more.” Elsewhere, the excellent “Apple Tree” is an alternately funny and bittersweet waltz (complete with “doom, doo-wop” backing vocals) that tells the story of a relationship moving at two opposing speeds. Closer “If Love, Then Mercy,” meanwhile, plays like a long-lost standard, full of woozy accompaniment, soaring intentions, and Gilbert’s characteristically strong vocals.

Before Sugar Ransom &thesecretpistols celebrate the release of the 10-song Hopefiend Thursday, September 22 at Company Brewing (with Liv Mueller in support), listen to “Patron Saint Of The Working Poor,” “Apple Tree,” and “If Love, Then Mercy” now, only at Milwaukee Record.