|Album Review: Skullcrusher—Skullcrusher EP|
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Los Angeles-based Skullcrusher takes the cake for most formidable name on the Secretly Canadian roster (though serpentwithfeet comes in at a close second). The soft, tentative indie folk that embodies singer Helen Ballentine's sound is a far cry from the head-banging heavy metal that her alias implies. After quitting her job at an art gallery, Ballentine found herself saddled with a lot of creative energy and downtime. Armed with this newfound independence, she gingerly dipped her feet into songwriting. It is this sense of unfettered freedom that she harnesses in her debut self-titled visual EP.
Take "Places/Plans," for example. The slow-burning reverie sees Skullcrusher throw caution to the wind as she sighs, "Does it matter that I'm a really good friend / that I'm there when you call and when your shows end." Other lyrics like "Come in / the window's open and I'm lying alone," and "I don't have any plans for tomorrow" are liberating and cathartic. Ballentine's grasp on intimate yet comfortingly universal storytelling is particularly distinct on this opening track.
Then there's the folksy "Trace," which best captures Skullcrusher's affinity for dissonance—the cheerful instrumental and youthful vocal delivery diverge significantly from the gloomy subject matter. On "Trace," Ballentine wonders whether it's worth it to stay put, posing the age-old question, "If I get up will it be worse?" As the banjo-assisted guitar arrangement gradually ascends into a deafening crescendo, her quiet discontent becomes too loud to ignore.
Punching in at just under a minute, "Two Weeks in December" is a beautiful interlude between "Trace" and "Day of Show." In its entirety, the gentle, woozy song feels like Ballentine's spotty memory of a dream from which she's abruptly awakened. "Two Weeks in December" is a lazy river moving from one train of thought to the next, from recollections of first impressions to waking up alone.
The closing song on the project opens with a tender reminder to let go, with the line, "It all works out." "Day of Show" is a departure from the other compositions on the EP; it takes her usual acoustic guitar instrumental and weaves in a decisive backbeat and shimmering synths. Ballentine's delicate lilt washes over like a gentle breeze, whispering, "I'll cut the back of my hair"—something all too familiar in the age of the quarantine.
With her music career taking off, Ballentine keeps a firm grip on her visual arts beginnings. Her fondness for the medieval shines through in her music videos. Skullcrusher lives happily in the space between fantasy and reality, be it the Sword in the Stone-esque font that adorns her "Places/Plans" lyric video, or the Renaissance faire attire that Ballentine wears for the "Trace" visual.
Throughout "Skullcrusher," Ballentine exhibits a determined honesty with herself, leaving no stone unturned in the dissection and subsequent reassembling of her relationships. This willingness to bare her musings to the world is what makes Skullcrusher one of 2020's most intriguing new artists.
You can stream "Skullcrusher" here.