Review Summary: Our hands reach out to each other/Like we're telling a story
It's no secret that I'm not a huge fan of downright negative reviews; art is an incredibly tricky and devotional muse, and I never quite feel comfortable laying in to something that somebody took their time and effort to make, and then were courageous enough to release for public consumption. However, the more I listened to Black Friday
, the more I found it hard to not concede that there's an important discussion to be had re: intent vs impact, form vs execution, and so on. You see, I so badly want to love Black Friday
, as there are some real bright spots: the lyricism is bracingly honest and affecting at times, and there are some spare moments of quietly ingenious beauty. Opener 'Company', the album's best song, is able to marry a cozy, in media res feeling of intimacy with pregnant swells of organ and smoldering guitar drenched in fuzz. It's an emotionally captivating song that is still able to engage musically with well-matched instrumentation and mood. 'Sneakers' is another winner-Ellen Kempner gives a charming performance of fumbling momentum as the song wavers back and forth from a feeling of quiet suspension with snippets of found sound to flickering pulses of blushing guitar swirls and a rudimentary drum machine track. In these moments, Palehound are able to locate a middle ground where vividly emotional writing can be bolstered by a quaint but inviting musical backdrop.
The problem, of course, is that these moments are few and far between. What is left is what largely comprises Black Friday
: overly timid and sleepy vocals with listless and ineffectual instrumentation. There are lulls on this album so sustained that it makes the runtime of 35 minutes feel double that; tracks 4 through 7 in particular coagulate into an indiscernible lo-fi, midtempo mush. There seems to be almost a depersonalized effect to the singing here, sounding utterly emotionless and completely disengaged. Admittedly, the lyrics here do take a turn towards some traumatic and self-loathing fare, but there's a frustrating lack of nerve and conviction that is wholly distracting. It's a strange problem to have. I commend Kempner for including what is obviously very personal material, but it feels as though she is simply going through the motions, strained and overly airy vocals and beige, sluggish musical accompaniment giving off the impression that she didn't know how to present these songs and just wanted to get through it as quickly as possible. While these present me with some compelling and slightly uncomfortable questions regarding what I should reasonably expect from an artist who is baring themselves for the listener, from a songwriting and critical perspective, it's a zero-sum tradeoff. Ellen Kempner does brave and hard-hitting work here; it's just a shame that Black Friday
has such a hard time showing that.