Would you go to the base of the Williamsburg Bridge for distantly brooding female-fronted psychedelic pop or catchy, tersely energetic new wave? If so, Palehound at Baby’s All Right tonight, May 25 at 10 is your thing. Cover is $14.
Guitarist/singer Palehound, a.k.a. Ellen Kempner, has a debut album wryly titled Dry Food streaming at Bandcamp – if you’re wondering what the joke is, just imagine you’re a dog. On one hand, for someone as young as Kempner to be riding such a wave of hype – at least from the PR machine behind her – is cause for suspicion. On the other hand, her songs are smart and relevant, she sings in an unaffectedly strong voice, and as a bonus there’s a lot of offhandedly savage, Babyshambles-ish guitar chord-chopping here.
The album’s opening track, Molly, is a time trip back to 1981, jagged flurries of guitar on the verse giving way to a catchy, jangly chorus over Jesse Weiss’ skitttish drums and a dancing eighth-note bassline from Dave Khoshtinat. On the surface, at least, it seems to be about a selfish girl rather than the drug.
Healthier Folk – a sarcastic dig at how the beauty product industry makes a fortune off feeding and encouraging womens’ insecurities – has a freak-folk sway, fueled by careening slide guitar over a bed of opaque acoustics and cymbals, up to a big dreampop peak. “Pushing back your tongue with my clenched-teeth home security system,” Kempner sings with a breathy unease in Easy, a creepy, shapeshifting post-party scenario.
Cinnamon sounds like a haphazard take on jaunty sunshower Cardigans lounge-pop, with hints of early Lush. The album’s eerily waltzing folk noir title track layers spare guitar and Kempner’s whisperingly cynical vocals over simmering organ. “You made beauty a monster to me, still kissing all the ugly things I see,” she half-whispers.
The spare, dusky Dixie is the folkiest number here. Cushioned Caging is the best and loudest, part clangy southwestern gothic bolero, part Sleater-Kinney. The album closes with the catchy See Konk, a sinisterly dispassionate account of loss and madness. Believe the hype: Palehound is every bit as worth hearing as she’s been made out to be.