Review Summary: furious riffs and ear-piercing vocals
If you’re unfamiliar with Skullcrusher’s music, you might be surprised to find that the above words cannot be used to describe Quiet the Room
. If you are familiar with Skullcrusher’s music, Helen Ballantine’s debut full length may still encompass a few surprises. The artist’s previous EPs, singles and covers are lovely indie folk pieces, with the most well-known tracks such as ‘Song for Nick Drake’ and ‘Places/Plans’ entailing delicate yet catchy melodies and subdued climaxes. Rather than exploring this sense of accessibility - arguably the easy route - Quiet the Room
invites more abstraction while expanding Skullcrusher’s sonic palette in all the right and most engulfing ways.
Opening cuts ‘They Quiet the Room’ and ‘Building a Swing’ establish the record’s ambient sensibilities: across its fourteen tracks, Quiet the Room
basks in subtle noises and distortions to enhance its emotional impact. ‘Building a Swing’s first half is shrouded in such sonic unclarities as gentle strings grace its obscure melodies, before the fog clears to shine a dim light on the song’s repeated mantra: “harness it, but don’t believe it
”. Similarly, the contemplative ‘Sticker’ and ‘Lullaby in February’ use calmly distorted tones to their advantage. The melodic outlines are entirely hypnotising, with Ballentine’s heavenly voice giving Preacher’s Daughter
a run for its use of vocal reverb (and, mind you, that is a good thing).
Moreover, ‘Sticker’ exemplifies how Skullcrusher does not need many words to build Quiet the Room
’s world - she merely needs the right ones. Tracing back memories and traumas to her childhood home, Ballentine seems to create a conceptual house for these recollections. While each song explores a different corner or element of this home - from the staircase in ‘Sticker’ to ‘Pass Through Me’s windows - its precise properties are never fully uncovered. Doors may not lead anywhere and time does not appear to play a role; questions remain unanswered. All questions except one: on ‘Quiet the Room’, Skullcrusher sings “where do you want to be? / someplace you cannot see
”. Regardless of what this answer means to whom, it fits as a perfect mission statement for the introverted tendencies of Quiet the Room
In spite of the album’s beautifully washed out, abstract aesthetics, there are plenty of explicitly memorable moments to be found here. Several songs embrace repetition as a means of disintegrating semblances of structure, and the gorgeous and surprisingly expansive instrumentation throughout crafts a soundscape that is persistently engulfing. While Quiet the Room
requires multiple listens to truly unfold itself, it overcomes this slight hurdle by being perfect for almost every situation: it’s hazy enough to complement quiet and focused moments, yet carries the depth required for more dedicated listens. Skullcrusher’s first album may not present a doormat saying ‘welcome’ in bold letters, but it presents one of the most rewarding sonic experiences of the year for those willing to open its undefined doors.