Yonkers chauntress bare souls through existential lyrics and fuzz pedals
Although Palehound are the three piece indie rock group, it’s technically a one woman show. Ellen Kempner runs tings (if you want to quote Trigga). After listening to debut album Dry Food you realise that something bad has happened to Kempner recently. Well maybe not bad, but not to the script. Although the songs have a downbeat slacker cool lo-fi indie feel, lyrically they are logged full of remorse, self-deprecation, pathos and ultimately enough self-awareness to do something about it.
Album opener Molly, sounds like Pavement covering Devo, is arguably in the top three songs I’ve heard this year. I don’t mention the other two, as this is all about Palehound and Kempner. At just shy of three minutes it’s nigh on perfect. It makes you want to jump around your lounge, walk to the shops in a baggy threadbare jumper, cook a nice pan of spaghetti stars with Marmite and a host of all other things that conjure your youth. When all that mattered was good music and the promise of better nights out. Basically Kempner is hoping for her luck to change and things to get a bit better. Healthier Folk is an acoustic work out with cacophonous drums and drunk lead guitar. Easy follows with more drunk guitars. A riff that sounds like a beginner playing a scale slowly so they don’t mess up backs up Kempner while she sings her tale of woe and heartache. When the tempo changes and it gets messy you start to feel the level of Kempner’s downer.
After the upbeat Cinnamon, the remaining four tracks are like a suite of tracks that she that Kempner is trying to get back on track, but we all know it won’t be an easy fix. Dixie is the prettiest song on the album, thanks to its wonky finger picking and lullaby-esque vocals. Cushioned Caging lets Palehand let rip on last time before the albums closer Seekonk. Like Dixie it is fingerpicked, but its far more dextrous than before. When the band come in and play together you do get the feeling that Kempner isn’t alone after all, even if her line “The bed is getting cold again” makes us think otherwise.
After listening to the album back to back about five times, you can’t work out if the sombre existential lyrics or the excessively melodic guitar riffs are the things that keep you playing it again. Then it hits you, like an unexpected football to the face, it’s both, or neither, or whatever, you don’t care because in twenty eight minutes Palehound have done more than most bands do in a year. Not only are the songs beautifully simple, they invoke an innocence rarely this fully formed. The childlike vocals, ad-hoc strumming patterns, and blistering distortion all makes for an exquisite listen, even if the subject matter makes you want to give Kempner a hug and say “It’s going to be fine”.