Palehound
Black Friday
Jun 7, 2019

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The third full-length from Boston-based trio Palehound, Black Friday is a finespun exploration of all the forms that love can take: love between friends, love for people no longer in your life, love in the face of self-hate, love that endures through major life changes or through many tiny catastrophes. With her thoughtful narrative voice, Palehound singer/songwriter Ellen Kempner imbues each song on the album with a radical sensitivity, an unchecked depth of feeling that ultimately sparks a greater open-heartedness within the listener.

Co-produced by Kempner and Gabe Wax (Beirut, Soccer Mommy), Black Friday follows 2017’s A Place I’ll Always Go—a widely acclaimed release that landed on many year-end best-of lists. In creating the album, Kempner and her bandmates Jesse Weiss (drums) and Larz Brogan (bass) recorded at Panoramic House in Stinson Beach, California, tracking most of the songs live and breathing a new vitality into Palehound’s elegantly detailed sound.

Unrestrained in emotion but subtle in sonic flourish, Black Friday opens with the stripped-back intensity of “Company,” the first of many songs conveying a profound longing for a lost friend. From there, Palehound shift into the joyful wonder of “Aaron,” a song Kempner wrote for her partner in the midst of his transitioning process. “It’s about the past year of him coming out and me helping him through that, and just watching him grow so much,” she says. With her hushed yet urgent vocals, Kempner reveals her ability to draw so much power from a single word, turning “Aaron” into an indelibly tender expression of devotion and love.

Palehound examine the intricacies of friendship and partnership all throughout Black Friday, handling the subject with a level of attention rarely found in pop songs. On the quietly hypnotic title track, Kempner captures the specific ache of uneven emotional investment between friends, framing her plaintive acceptance in particularly barbed lyrics (“You’re Black Friday and I’m going to the mall”). And on “Worthy,” Palehound speak to the challenge of navigating self-confidence issues in relationships, and delicately showcase Kempner’s lyrical finesse (“And I’ve won over your mother, darling/And I’ve won over your sister too/And I won over your father, darling/And I still don’t feel worthy of you”).

While much of Black Friday unfolds with palpable compassion, “Killer” takes on a vengeful mood as Kempner recounts a fantasy of doing away with a friend’s abuser. “It came from being so fed up with people who feel like they can take advantage of others sexually or physically or emotionally to get ahead or get what they want, and just wanting to destroy that culture in general,” she says. On the following track, Palehound continue their contemplation of abuse with “Where We Live”—a striking piece of spoken word from New York City-based poet Melissa Lozada- Oliva; its gritty yet dreamlike storytelling set against Kempner’s sprawling guitar work.

In bringing Black Friday to life, Kempner spent much of her time holed up in the practice space she shares with a wrestling troupe, pursuing a songwriting process that’s often emotionally fraught. “For me songs usually start with some really strong anxiety or other bad emotion,” says Kempner. “I generally don’t pick up a guitar when I’m feeling super-happy.” Originally from Connecticut, she first started writing songs at age 10, several years after taking up guitar. “My dad wrote songs and played guitar and we’re really close, so I always felt inspired to make music too,” she notes. After playing in a punk band in high school, Kempner began putting out songs under the name Palehound at age 18, then released the project’s debut EP Bent Nail in 2013 and full-length debut Dry Food in 2015. Arriving in June 2017, A Place I’ll Always Go earned praise from outlets like Pitchfork (who hailed Kempner’s voice as “specific and visceral”) and NPR (who stated that Palehound’s “unflinching songs are also a celebration of life and embrace of love, and an empathetic reflection on how endings usually lead to beginnings”).

With Black Friday building off the emotional complexity of its predecessor, Palehound hope that the album might help others to work through their own troubles in life and love of all kinds. “Making music’s always been a therapeutic thing for me—that’s such a big part of the reason why I do it in the first place,” says Kempner. “What I always want to do with my songs is to help people heal in some way, or come to some new understanding about whatever it is that they’re going through. Even if it’s just hearing a song and feeling less alone than they were before, that would mean so much to me.”

Songs

  • 1
    Company (1:58)
  • 2
    Aaron (3:38)
  • 3
    Black Friday (3:24)
  • 4
    Worthy (2:53)
  • 5
    Killer (4:10)
  • 6
    Where We Live (1:41)
  • 7
    Bullshit (3:38)
  • 8
    Sneakers (2:15)
  • 9
    Urban Drip (2:27)
  • 10
    Stick N Poke (2:26)
  • 11
    The City (2:28)
  • 12
    In Town (4:25)

Reviews

"Palehound's Ellen Kempner has established herself as a prolific and distinguished voice in indie rock, winning over fans with her razor-sharp technique and poignant lyricism."

NPR

"Palehound’s Ellen Kempner has spent the past four years building up one of the most distinct styles in indie rock. Her songs often present a low-key front, but there’s a lot going on underneath her dreamy guitar parts and soft-edged vocals."

Rolling Stone

"Black Friday, Palehound’s third full-length album, is her most accomplished yet... [Kempner’s] gnarled guitar lines have given way to soft-focus serenity, warm keys stemming the anxiety that once threatened to envelop her."

Stereogum

"Ellen Kempner flipped body image to create her most authentic Palehound record. On Black Friday, Kempner addresses her body, sexual identity, and place in the world with more vulnerability and openness than ever before."

The FADER

"Black Friday examines the intricacies of friendship and partnership, handling the subject with a level of attention rarely found in pop songs."

Talkhouse

"Few things destroy me quite like a whisper-sung, honest, narrative Palehound track, especially when it relates directly to bodily discomfort."

Jezebel

"Black Friday is a constantly modulating love song to the very human experience of clinging to other people, but through her sharp writing, Kempner offers insight on how to rely on ourselves when everyone else leaves."

Paste

"As a writer, Kempner's antennae are acutely tuned in to the heart's dizzying range of emotions, and with Black Friday, her connection remains as strong as ever."

All Music

"Palehound exists as the brainchild of Ellen Kempner, a badass, queer positive, singer-songwriter who writes her lyrics in a personal, almost confessional style which makes you feel as if she’s whispering them right into your ear."

Flaunt Magazine

"Black Friday is a clear tribute to the act of processing, working through things, and above all else, no longer hiding from oneself."

The FADER

"The brilliant songwriter and musician continues to utilize her music to convey a brutal honesty within evolving themes of self-understanding and self-assessment."

Vanyaland

"Black Friday continues to lean toward Kempner's more contemplative side, eschewing some of the rowdier fuzz-pop tendencies of earlier releases. Since the beginning, her strengths as a songwriter have been the bedrock of Palehound and the lo-fi, '90s-indebted indie production merely the chosen vessel for her world-weary introspections."

All Music

"The song flips Kempner’s often sardonic songwriting on its head, instead going for sweet and sincere, empathetic and hopelessly devoted to letting everyone be their best self."

Stereogum on "Aaron"

"Kempner’s considerable prowess on guitar and comfort with emotional ambiguity give shape to feelings that shift constantly and seem impossible to pin down."

Paste

"There's a time and place for affirming, decisive declarations of body positivity and self-love, but the agonizing, compassionate honesty Kempner shares in "Worthy" is its own kind of healing."

PAPER Magazine

"Dreamy, plucked guitar sequences invite the listener into the portrait of a walk home alone. Steady drums and a creeping, sinister bass slink in, ensnaring your attention before Kempner’s mesmerizing voice is heard crooning lines. Wailing, howl-like riffs carry out the ominous dreamscape to a spine-tingling finish."

Paste on "Killer"

"...emanates with persistent compassion, an invitation to embrace transformation of all types."

The FADER on "Aaron"

“It’s a song of latent, righteous, ever-present rage ”

Stereogum on "Killer"

"'Killer' begins with plaintive guitar, the tone perfectly selected to emboss the idea that this is going to be a serious song, and Kempner's gravelly delivery brings this home."

The 405

"Based in mellow synths and a visceral yearning in frontwoman Ellen Kempner’s soft vocals, “Black Friday” captures the rollercoaster of emotional investment in its lyrics: “I don’t hear from you too much / If you need to call me, I’m too weak to hold a grudge.”"

Paste
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Videos

  • Aaron (3:38)
    Robert Kolodny
  • Worthy (2:53)
    Robert Kolodny