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Album review: Palehound, ‘Dry Food’

Chad Kamenshine

The beauty of Palehound’s new debut — and there is a surplus of it — is its sheer indifference to one mood, sentiment, or sound. From song to song, “Dry Food” veers from ragged but right pop confections to fingerpicked acoustic ballads and stoner jams cloaked in ’90s guitar heroics. It takes band mastermind Ellen Kempner exactly eight songs in 30 minutes to hook you and leave you wanting to hear more.

After a hyped EP, 2013’s “Bent Nail,” Palehound arrives with a surefooted and supremely catchy full-length introduction. And it primes Kempner, a 21-year-old songwriter and guitarist based in Boston, for a major breakthrough.


Exploding in Sound Records — the label home to other notable Massachusetts bands (Pile, Krill, and formerly Speedy Ortiz, whose Sadie Dupuis is Kempner’s close friend) — will release the album on Friday.

“Dry Food” is Kempner’s portrait of the artist sifting through not only coming-of-age disenchantment, but faded love that hasn’t quite faded enough. Her heartache, and its requisite frustration, bubbles to the surface on many of these songs.

“You made beauty a monster to me,” she sings on the Yo La Tengo-like title track, before trailing off into a repeated refrain of, “So I’m kissing all the ugly things I see.” Later, on “Cushioned Caging,” she admits, “I knew you were a close call,” but takes some of the blame anyway: “I love you, it’s all my fault.”

Except for drums, Kempner played every instrument on the album. Only her guitar prowess diverts the attention from her lyrics. Her deft technique is often about the surprise attack or a delightful detour that upends the song. Her curlicue riffs on “Cinnamon” have been lodged in my brain for a week straight. And the opening “Molly” is tense and taut but still bends with explosive interludes; the St. Vincent comparisons aren’t far off.


Kempner is just as keening in her more introspective moments. The brooding ambience of “Easy” ambles along until it dissipates into a psychedelic haze. With its soft chords and faint hums, “Dixie” has a bedroom intimacy that suggests it could be the song’s original demo form.

If this is what Kempner sounds like on her debut, it’s exciting to consider where she’s headed. (Out Friday)

ESSENTIAL “Cinnamon”

Palehound is part of Exploding in Sound’s label showcase at the Sinclair in Cambridge on Aug. 22.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.