Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - MUSIC REVIEWS - Pale­hound { polyvinyl records }

Pale­hound’s 2015 de­but, Dry Food, es­tab­lished the Bos­ton in­die band’s ta­lent with an hon­est de­pic­tion of early-20s dis­com­fort, post­breakup lone­li­ness, and ac­cu­mu­lat­ing anx­i­ety. But while the band’s sec­ond re­lease, A Place I’ll Al­ways Go, is far from up­beat (much of it grap­ples with the pain of los­ing loved ones), it re­veals a new sense of com­fort in per­sonal con­vic­tions.

The al­bum chron­i­cles a tur­bu­lent year and a half for vo­cal­ist, song­writer, and gui­tarist Ellen Kemp­ner, who, dur­ing that time, mourned the deaths of both a close friend and her grand­mother and un­ex­pect­edly found new love while in the depths of griev­ing. On “Hunter’s Gun,” she warns, “Don’t come near me/ I don’t wanna fall in love/ And I can tell a hunter’s gun from its glim­mer in the brush.” The line sets up a ten­sion that Kemp­ner spends the rest of the al­bum ex­plor­ing, delv­ing into the ex­tremes of loss and love.

Pale­hound’s ear­lier work re­fracted scenes through arm’s-length po­etry, and A Place

I’ll Al­ways Go uses sim­i­lar sur­re­al­ism to mag­nify the sig­nif­i­cance of sim­ple mo­ments: “Car­na­tions” in­dulges day­dream es­capism when pain becomes over­whelm­ing; “Turn­ing 21” ad­dresses Kemp­ner’s late friend di­rectly, list­ing the minu­tiae of ev­ery­day life that she’s missing. Kemp­ner’s gui­tar speaks too, burn­ing with un­spo­ken frus­tra­tion on “If

You Met Her” and adding a con­ver­sa­tional,

ev­ery­thing-is-fine flour­ish to the ove­whelmed “Flow­ing Over.”

Beyond its pow­er­ful sto­ry­telling, A Place

I’ll Al­ways Go of­fers a pub­lic dec­la­ra­tion of iden­tity that Pale­hound’s ear­lier work avoided. Though Kemp­ner is openly gay, she pre­vi­ously lim­ited any lyri­cal ref­er­ences to sex­u­al­ity, some­times sub­sti­tut­ing male pro­nouns in ro­man­tic roles to dis­tance her­self from a sim­plis­tic gay-artist nar­ra­tive. A Place I’ll Al­ways Go con­fi­dently steps away from that con­cern, most no­tably in “Room,” a celebration of queer love. Its a reeval­u­a­tion of artis­tic val­ues, but it doesn’t dom­i­nate an al­bum full of equally strong ma­te­rial. A Place I’ll Al­ways Go is the sound of Pale­hound coming into its own, call­ing for lis­ten­ers to rec­og­nize the band’s com­plex­i­ties.

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