Black Friday, the third full-length album from the Boston band Palehound, finds singer/guitarist Ellen Kempner and company delivering twelve songs that capture the tender sincerity reminiscent of the group’s best compositions to date. While the subject matter varies from track to track, the one commonality is that just about every lyric delivered from Kempner is directed at a single individual. This sort of one-on-one confessional rhapsodizing, combined with Kempner’s often fragile singing style, make for a remarkably personal record.
“Company” opens Black Friday with only Ellen and an organ as she sets a scene that suggests two friends killing time. After the first verse, a crying guitar solo enters and helps build things up just before the song winds down and “Aaron” begins. With lyrics detailing Kempner’s acceptance of a partner in transition and a rousing all-in feel from the band, “Aaron” is revealed as Black Friday’s true opener. For a sensitive moment that could have easily come off tonally as overly sentimental, the trio instead kick things up optimistically, using the opportunity to celebrate the occasion, and the song ends up working quite nicely.
Just before the album’s halfway point, a homicidal ideation is relayed in the form of “Killer”. Over a moody, reverb-heavy guitar line, Kempner details a chilling first-person account of the murder of an abusive man. It’s a standout moment, one that uncharacteristically casts Kempner as the aggressor. Black Friday’s centerpiece, “Where We Live”, follows “Killer” and is a definite curveball. The spoken word piece is accompanied only by a jazzy guitar solo and what sounds like ocean waves. The poetry delivered here, while not terrible by any means, is a bit jarring, but only due to its crucial place in the album’s sequence and shift in the speaker’s perspective. The track’s placement feels awkward and may have been better served closer to the album’s end.
Black Friday’s second half reveals a few moments worthy of mention amidst the handful of songs. “Bullshit” delivers a laidback country-tinged groove that smartly puts Kempner’s gentle voice front and center during the song’s elegant choruses. The upbeat “Stick N Poke” is another fine side B track. “I think I’m due for a shitty tattoo,” Kempner repeats during the song’s catchy chorus. The record’s closer, “In Town”, is a thoughtful ballad that pulls things together emotively with the help of a piano and strings, though the song’s final refrain does feel a bit open ended.
Although there are a couple weak moments on Black Friday, in addition to the aforementioned odd sequencing choice at the record’s midway point, none of these flaws can be blamed on Kempner’s writing and vocals, which are excellent throughout, demonstrating lyrically not only a uniquely touching honesty, but a sense of humor and a frequent gaiety. Additionally, Kempner’s voice is consistently beautiful and, although typically delicate, has the occasion to soar wonderfully and always appropriately. Overall, Black Friday is a largely enjoyable listen that manages to stay interesting mostly due to its chief composer’s natural gifts and charming candidness.