Secret Meeting score: 86
by Joseph Purcell
Boston trio, Palehound, led by Ellen Kempner have found their niche with beautifully honest, often macabre orchestrated snippets that wrestle back and forth with love, loss and self-chastisement. Kempner, the narrator, expertly guides anyone fortunate enough to listen with immaculate detail and a twist of brutal honesty. She is poignantly cast in the role of both storyteller and subject in chief, and her lyrical inspiration details the highs and lows of her own past – bringing a painful authenticity.
Joined on Black Friday by bandmates Jesse Weiss and Larz Brogan, Kempner assumes co-production duties with Gabe Wax (Beirut, Soccer Mommy) to imbue a fuller, more expansive sound than on previous releases. The singular narrative driven blasts still exist, best exemplified on the slacker pop vibe of Stick n Poke, which is awash with an absorbing spiky guitar; yet it is with the fragility of opener Company that Kempner sets the tone for the emotional traverse within. A lonely vocal warmth shines through, complimented by lush strokes of feedback, and it’s a brutally direct punch to the heart. On Sneakers, Kempner is in apologetic form – ‘I’m sorry that you had to see me like that’, as she’s cast against the balminess of birds and a summer backdrop on this beautifully simple yet unique two minutes of magnificent pop.
Highlight, Aaron, is Kempner’s letter of devotion and love to her partner, written during his transition process- confirming she is an artist to cherish and treasure.
Title track, Black Friday, is a darkly hypnotic affair, wrestling with the uneven nature of friendships, as a quiet burning wrath smoulders within, bursting with tempestuous vitriol – ‘I’m too weak to hold your grudge’, remorsefully recalling fallen friendships – ‘I don’t hear from you too much, thought you said we’d keep in touch’. Killer casts a vengeful air, recounting a fantasy of exacting vengeance on a friend’s abuser, ‘I wanna be the one who kills the man who hurt you darling’, before Where We Live provides a further twist- she delivers exquisite spoken word over a haze of guitars, as her emotional intensity bleeds through with every word.
Black Friday is a cathartic voyage through the emotional complexities of everyday existence. It is a cool refreshing statement of intent that refuses to compromise – instead laying out a vital soundtrack to life in 2019. Magnificent.