Album Review: Skullcrusher – Quiet The Room

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[Secretly Canadian; 2022]

These moments remain etched in my memory: a partner recounting the echoes of a past that is not theirs. The story of a funeral, where the (young) priest stammers the speech and bumps into the container of holy water, spilling it all over the place. The photographs that a grandmother had taken in her lifetime, aligned to reflect an aesthetic perspective, the individual snapshots creating a choreography of color and theme.

These moments, adjacent to my life but somehow distant, are memories of someone else’s memories, postscripts of people’s lives – chapters of unwritten biographies. Maybe that’s why there are people who are hired by ordinary people to write the story of their life, to make something bloom that would otherwise wither.

We are all doing this for ourselves, in our lifetime: delving into the depths of our past, replaying, sometimes reconfiguring, “what ifs” and enchanted embraces of moments we wish could linger beyond. of their expiration point. Maybe we’re loading up all those moments in pastels — or grays and blacks — that they don’t deserve. Perhaps the way we imagine those memories says more about who we are than who we would like to be. At least that’s why we admire artists: they can express themselves in ways that make things better. More prettily. They make things last before they disappear.

Skull CrusherThe debut EP of, with its hazy aesthetic, existed in a twilight that characterized a state of fugue between the imaginary and the constant. Using delays, echoes, and minimalist approaches to songwriting and instrumentation, his songs were ethereal, romantic, and suggestive gothic poems. With Calm the roomthe Los Angeles songwriter chose to fully immerse himself in his own past and reframe his domestic childhood memories in the form of songs.

In 14 songs – approximately 41 minutes – born musician Helen Ballentine creates less a constant narration than an architecture of themes. Yes, the cover – representing a miniature house – is quite revealing of this approach: a little gothic in tone, there seems to be a lot of movement in the structure, but the whole remains unchanged and linked to the piano, the strings and the the acoustic guitar. The words sometimes repeat themselves, echo each other like ghosts. Windows and doors make recurring appearances as rooms are described in humble detail. Ballentine goes so far as to use Freudian imagery of the soul as a house, lamenting that windows, which provide insight, always signify a barrier and an inability to touch. “And I can’t measure it / The asymptotic miss / The place I want to be / The one I can’t see / The anger of my love / The words I can’t think of / The choices I have facts / The parts I can’t explain,” she sums up on “It’s Like a Secret,” as the elements of the song slowly disintegrate one by one.

This nature of fragility is hinted at throughout – when recordings of childhood vocals return to crackling tape, when faint percussion provides a meager heartbeat, or when – as so often – the music seems to overwhelm his physical capabilities. and breaks down into noise and then just, like that, cut up. Many folk musicians have worked with this technique – Azure Ray, Grouper, Sufjan Stevens, Florist, Lingua Ignota and even the later works of Taylor Swift to some extent – but it is rarely as thematic as here, where Ballentine tackles the very nature of the retrospection of childhood. But it’s also an Achilles’ heel: much of it slips away, fading like the color of a drying autumn leaf or a collection of sepia wartime photographs of schoolchildren. There are clues we see in these glimpsed moments, but the texture of the work makes any other context impossible.

In this sense, this work is truly gothic: it is not so much about monsters or ghouls as it presents the listener with meaningful walls and windows. The collection of sounds and the cinematic conception of these acoustic elements are, in this sense, the very bricks and furniture that represent this body, rendering vulgar any optional explanation or prosaic retelling of history. This would also explain the many instrumentals. Similar to Florist’s self-titled record from earlier this year, these interludes express the very things the rare lyrics conclude as inexpressible: “I hurried / The words you wrote / Did you mean them?” / Did you know? / I was standing / Behind the door / Would you notice / If I let you go? The questions remain unanswered, the light simply fades in one room, giving way to the illumination of another.

In the end, we cannot change memories. Yes, people are dying and – speaking of Gothic imagery – houses are being demolished. That’s what we’re tackling, that’s our nature: understanding that some things can never be solved, and some things just sit in the attic, gathering dust among the cobwebs. It may crush some people’s skulls, and make it rain, but Ballentine leaves this project with some hope. “I am the letter on your desk / I contain all the loneliness / You will not share with your friends or even your closest confidants / You are the walls and floors of my room / You contain my body and all my moods / I fill you with objects that are close to me too”, she sings on “You are my House”. The closing lines echo a beauty we rarely find these days: “I sink my feet into you / I’m aware of my weight and how it affects you.” As fleeting as this experience is, it remains emotionally moving and deeply affecting. In its ambition, and for those who are open to its fading beauty, it will contain entire worlds.

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