by Morgan Greenwood (@totemmotet)
Palehound’s third album Black Friday follows their widely lauded 2017 effort A Place I’ll Always Go. Black Friday will likely receive as much or more acclaim as Palehound’s previous work but for perhaps different reasons. Where the production on A Place I’ll Always Go felt comfortable with a bit of fuzz, a bit of lo-fi flavor encrusted on each sound source ad libitum, Black Friday’s production is often finely detailed and intensely delicate, words also fit to describe the songwriting, performances, and instrumentation across the album. Often the sounds are so crystalline you might be able to caress the guitar or cymbal right in front of you. You’re not so much in the room with the band as you are right in front of them.
When there is a background fuzziness, it feels full of intent. On the track “Where We Live,” where guitarist/vocalist Ellen Kempner accompanies a visceral spoken-word poem by New York City poet Melissa Lozada-Oliva, Kempner’s guitar has a warbling vinyl-record quality that mirrors and intensifies the poem’s rending of memory. In the background—the sound of running water, perhaps a field recording, as if the poem was read near a stream, the recording itself a memory of a specific time, a specific place.
Kempner’s own words often have very much the same quality to them. Specific points in time are laid-out and the emotional weight of each is left to the listener to extrapolate (“Stand up and your shoulders cave / Tell a joke the punchline shakes”). Often, this type of tact can feel shallow or miss the mark entirely but Kempner’s words are able to point to an inner-life to not only the narrator but also the other in each situation (“What can I do / When all my truth just sounds like bullshit to you? / Where do we go / When all our truth just sounds like damage control?”). These songs have a rare, deep sense of empathy.
Album closer “In Town” has the instruments’ relationships constantly in flux to one another, with different filters sweeping on each, creating a swirling kaleidoscope of moving colors. At no point, however, does this feel distracting or as if something is ‘wrong’ as it easily could. Instead, it seems to say something intensely beautiful. The record as a whole is preoccupied with relationships, both romantic and friendly, exploring longing for those lost and the ways in which we support and, through insecurity and horrific action, alienate each other. The flux of instruments coming and going strike as a metaphor for the way each person may wander into and out of another’s life, adding color and beauty but just as quickly leaving. A powerful final statement.