With their 2015 full-length debut, the delightfully fuzzy Dry Food, Palehound established themselves as a pronounced addition to a division of indie darlings (featuring such groups as Hop Along and Speedy Oritz) bent on thrusting their love of the mid-90s alternative scene into a contemporary setting.
Though clearly boasting a notably cleaner production, the band’s sophomore effort continues to pay homage to their heroes (Pavement and The Breeders, to name a couple of obvious influences) while pushing their sound to incorporate the shift occurring on the airwaves of college radio stations today. Dropping some of the Moldy Peaches-esque cutesy elements of their first record, A Place I’ll Always Go affords frontwoman Ellen Kempner a mosaic of various indie rock stylings over which to pour her most vulnerable musings to date.
A Place I’ll Always Go is Palehound’s most accessible work yet, and that is in no way a dig at the level of complexity at work on this record. Too often, a more polished sound can sterilize a garage band, but in the case of this album, it seems to have done the exact opposite. Kempner has discovered the perfect packaging in which to display her tales of insecurity. Several of these tracks, particularly the lovelorn trifecta of “Carnations” into “Room” into “If You Met Her,” could easily find a substantial amount of radioplay if they fell into the right hands. This is an appreciated antidote to the indiscernible goop that Top 40 can all too frequently become. Palehound continues to prove that it is assuredly possible to write a banger that actually has some meat on its bones.
As a storyteller, Kempner makes sure that the emotion takes priority, but some of her most compelling moments involve recounting oddly specific scenes. In case it wasn’t already clear that Kempner is from Boston, she uses “If You Met Her” to namecheck Dunkin Donuts, recounting a late night adventure there with a former flame whom she hasn’t quite gotten over yet: “And you got the blueberry glazed one / And I laughed ‘cause you knew / It was the worst / One of the dozen.” In the aftermath of a severe loss, it always seems to be these seemingly meaningless moments that we return to in our minds.
Another vivid scene description comes on “Feeling Fruit,” an album highlight that uses its guitar pattern to celebrate the spirit of The Kinks. The speaker has been so deep in despair that she has only eaten frozen TV dinners for weeks. When she finally gets to the fresh produce section of a grocery store, she picks up apples and oranges just to remember what they felt like in her hands: “I am feeling all the fruits / Every wormhole, every bruise.” Even though she is beginning to move forward with her life, she is still caught in a rut because of her loneliness, “stuck with the weight you gave up.”
It’s impressive how many various sounds are at play on this album; Even more impressive is how seamlessly they all seem to mesh together. Every track appears to carry its own influences, wearing them directly on its sleeve. If you only heard the first and last songs on A Place I’ll Always Go, “Hunter’s Gun” and “At Night I’m Alright With You,” you would think that you were in for a light electronic, psychedelic chillwave homage to Beach House. In the middle of the record, Palehound steps back from their 90s alt rock origins to set aside time for “Turning 21,” a track that brings to mind the stylings of the first Hospitality album.
There is a surprising amount of pain to be found on A Place I’ll Always Go, especially because it is often disguised under the quirky exterior of songs like “Silver Toaster” and the manic, wavy guitar shredding of “Flowing Over.” There is nothing revolutionary about playing songs that deal with anxiety, even around queer themes, but it is rare for those tracks to feel this genuine. Palehound is well on their way to becoming familiar name within the indie rock community, and deservedly so. This is an accomplished piece of music in its own right, but the real magic is brought on by the anticipation of what comes next.