Palehound - Dry Food

The first big breakup is a staging post familiar to many of us: disillusionment with past love we're not ready to let go of, while stumbling between adolescence and adulthood. Here we find 21-year old Boston musician Ellen Kempner with her project Palehound's debut album Dry Food. Kempner plays a mean guitar and listens intently – she'll be great company.

Kempner has a storied connection to Speedy Ortiz's Sadie Dupris but we soon hear she's more than just her mentor's prodigy, with remarkable instrumental skills (only drums are provided by a third-party). Notably, Kempner never lets temptation of her musicianship dilute her lyrical expression or cloud her listener connection, her minimalist finger-picking on 'Dixie' being an example of her restraint. Quite some restraint!

Reference points do Kempner little justice. Sure she loves: Pavement, Breeders, St. Vincent – lots do – but like her musical instruments her influences are tools of her trade: lilting Beatles vocals in 'Healthier Folk' to rail against everyday mundanity, and hot apple pie and ice-cream; upbeat tempo underneath heart-melting lyrics "I knew you were a close call / I love you" in 'Cushioned Caging' to make Elliot Smith proud.

There's a gamut of feeling and sound between 'Easy' with its reflective fuzzed out guitars, and musical standout 'Cinnamon' where a 1970s-funky backdrop nail-bites into summery psychedelica. Throughout, rock 'n' roll and blues sensibilities scatter around Kempner's dreamy 1990s-indie rock touchstone. These are defining times for young people and Kempner won't be pinned down.

In the flowing album's final track 'Sea Konk', Kempner's vulnerable voice relaxes from pushing against its years to accept some confusion is OK, "Those days I spent with spoiled men... / But I am not alone ‘cause I got my mom”. Dry Food simmers emotions without making them precious during these precious years. Kempner gets it and makes sure her listeners do too.


A remarkable emotionally true, and technically outstanding, debut.


out of 10

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