From the first minute of opener “Molly”, the swirling mixture of contemplation and explosiveness that is Dry Food becomes apparent.
The album shows a clear progression from 2013’s Bent Nail EP which showcased Ellen Kempner’s folk sensibility. The raw yet deliberate energy available on Dry Food (Exploding in Sound) feels right.
At this point, much has been said in the critical reception about this being a break-up album. Front-woman Ellen Kempner’s call for reciprocation in the affair is never returned. I thought about this as I rode my bike to the river spot I frequent. I wanted to test it as a soundtrack for the sunny days too. I could feel the meticulous, athletic finger work and her deadpan yet invested vocals carrying me to my destination. Triumph shines, as well as heartbreak.
The vulnerability found in her heartbreak is matched by the self-sufficiency of someone much older than 21. As Kempner says in “Healthier Folk” while the song swells “Drizzle honey on my salt wound / Mom said ‘Use a harpoon if I ever need a meal’”. No one is handing out fish these days so she adapts. The theme returns throughout.
With so much to pick from, it’s not hard to miss out on certain stitches in the tapestry she weaves. Sleepy ballad “Easy” glides past a “clenched-teeth-home-security-system” out the door until the interlude’s ingeniously crafted guitar-vocal counterpoint. Turning around Kempner plainly states “Lately I’ve been thinking / that you’re never gonna love no one.”
The stop-and-go “Cushioned Caging” is an energetic piece that like many others found on the album evolves beyond recognition. After a few listens, I found “Beautiful books with missing pages” to be particularly revealing. A well-worn metaphor, torn apart and redone.
From start to finish, it is a work worth appreciating and coming back to when you need a meal.