PALEHOUND has come a long way since their 2013 debut EP Bent Nails. Over the last 6 years, the band has molded their diverse set of influences into a compact sound. For their 2017 album A Place I’ll Always Go, Ellen Kempner, guitarist, vocalist, and leading creative voice in the group, was able to brilliantly flesh out the college radio rock framework with her particularly strong melodies and a personal guitar style that subtly incorporated blues flourishes without becoming overly virtuosic.
But here’s the thing… “Killer”, Palehound’s new single, is nothing like A Place I’ll Always Go. The band abandons the aural aesthetic they have been developing and instead we are treated to a surprisingly strong ballad that sounds as if it should be playing in The Road House, the infamous biker bar in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, or during the end credits of an americana road drama.
Despite this drastic change in style, Palehound is able to carry over their mature songwriting chops and even improve upon them. Case in point: in the build-up to the chorus the band uses a deceptive cadence, something I definitely haven’t heard in their music before. The cadence, implying a modulation to the relative major key, subverts our expectation by returning to minor.
This deceptive sense of dramatic resolution provides a cathartic backdrop for Kempner’s evocative lyrics. “I wanna be the one who kills the man who hurt you, darlin’” she whisper-sings over the chorus’ descending chord progression.
Palehound’s new direction is exciting considering how expertly they are navigating very different musical terrain in “Killer”, so keep an eye on them. Also, if you are trying to catch them live, they are embarking on a month-long North American tour this Fall, playing two shows in New England (Burlington, VT and Boston, MA) before heading to Canada.
Jackson Albert Mann is an activist, writer, and musician from Boston, MA. He is an Adjunct Professor of Music at Bunker Hill Community College and a Teaching Artist at Berklee College of Music’s City Music Program.