Palehound – Black Friday

Photo of conifers on the Washington coast

Palehound’s new album, “Black Friday,” is a stunner. Ellen Kempner sings these songs with openness and vulnerability, songs about love and being loved, but also about tougher and meaner emotions: uneasiness, shame, anger, rage. Where “A Place I’ll Always Go” felt like intimate letters or a collection of short stories, “Black Friday” feels like a bigger production, a brave swing for the fences. Kempner sings about what it takes to love people, about losing friends, about trying to pull the people you love out of sadness. Every song on the album is fascinating and affecting, and the music, like the lyrics, feels like it’s more explorative, more outdoors than indoors.

Two songs I want to highlight: “Aaron” and “In Town.” The first is one of the most moving love songs I’ve heard in the last couple years. “Your mother wanted to name you Aaron/but her body built you/as a different man/And my friend, if you want me to I’ll call you Aaron/I can/I can/I can/I can/I can, Aaron/I can.” Kempner has said that the song is addressed to her partner, who’s transitioning. She sings those lines, and the whole song, with such focused tenderness. A beautiful song.

“In Town” is also full of love, but turns on thoughts of loss. “At the thought of losing you/my muscles hum familiar tunes/and curl me into a naked ball/wet on the shower floor.” And later, “If there’s anything I learned/when I was back in town/it’s that nothing worth loving/ ever sticks around/But you.” The music of “In Town” shadows the lyrics, with mournful piano and a unsettled guitar riff. The song ends with Kempner singing wordlessly over both the riff and a group of violins ruminating together.

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