On Black Friday, Palehound explore love in the face of anxiety | Music Review | Chicago Reader

On Black Friday, Palehound explore love in the face of anxiety 

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Bao Ngo

Update: To help slow the spread of COVID-19, this show has been postponed until a date to be determined. Tickets already purchased will be honored at that time, but contact point of purchase for refund information.

On their third full-length, 2019’s Black Friday (Polyvinyl), Boston band Palehound offer candid meditations on love—its many forms and stages, and the vulnerability it brings—from the perspective of someone deep in the midst of it. The trio remain firmly planted in the 90s-flecked indie pop that roots their sound, but they add new folk-rock twists; they also find a balance between their instrumentals and the luminous, airy vocals of front woman and songwriter Ellen Kempner, which convey a wide range of emotional inflections. The record feels like a natural progression from 2017’s A Place I’ll Always Go and its inward musings on pain: each track on Black Friday feels like an entry from a personal journal wrapped in a sophisticated sonic package. On album opener “Company,” Kempner sings in a cautious reverie over striking chords reminiscent of a booming church organ, which reinforce a sense that the narrator’s current relationship has arrived at something akin to bliss. But on “Worthy,” her voice feels intentionally restrained as she whispers in the voice of someone whose negative self-image has invited insecurity into a romance. She considers these issues from the opposite perspective on “Bullshit,” empathetically addressing a troubled lover struggling with inner turmoil. Some of the album’s most affecting stories concern platonic friendships: on “Killer,” for instance, Kempner colors her voice with earnest anger and pain as she lays out her desire to enact revenge on the person who’s harmed a friend. Though Black Friday doesn’t provide a clear resolution to the anxieties at its center, closing track “In Town” suggests the hope of peace amidst the chaos. Kempner’s intimate lyrics and passionate onstage presence give her a keen ability to help listeners feel her anguish, and her stories gain extra power as they resonate among a live audience.   v

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