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Posted on August 17th, 2015 (10:00 am) by Michael Negron

When reviewing any kind of media, there's a difficult line to walk between jargon, description, and opinion. Oftentimes, they become somewhat intertwined, and defining something without a slant becomes essentially impossible – and it kind of makes sense, this is critical content after all. One phrase that always stuck out to me, though, was "smart" writing. I've used it before, as it's something you can intrinsically feel if not describe, but what exactly does it mean? It's not synonymous with inventive, because you can do something original without it really lending itself to the "smart" descriptor. Same goes for complex writing; I'm sure math rock gets called smart more than its fair share (though I thankfully abstained from using it recently), but that's also not quite it either.

Palehound's Dry Food might provide some insight. From the first riff of "Molly," everything about it strikes you as incredibly smart. Biting wit and innuendo require care to work together, but with lines like "milking all the dudes 'till they bruise" Ellen Kempner has it locked down. There's a saying among some that lyricists aren't poets, and Kempner manages to prove equally versed at supporting and tearing down such presumptions; her work is gritty and simple, and is indebted as much to its intonation as its lyricism, but for all its sardonic directness it undeniably works.

The songwriting itself is marked by a similar style; at times reminiscent of the slack-rock of Polvo, there's something very unassuming about Palehound. Much like their Exploding In Sound labelmate Ovlov, Palehound co-opt a sound that should by all accounts be fatally over-exposed, dress it down with lo-fi textures, and manage to make something strangely brilliant.

But where Ovlov hinge subversion on texture, Palehound often surprise you more with their composition. The kind-of fake-out that "Molly" throws at you in the bridge is disorienting in the most refreshing way possible for a pop song. Each song has something like that, and though certain tracks ("Easy", "Cushioned Caging") clearly outshine others, that pervasive attitude, unrelenting style, and overwhelming cleverness stays through to the last note.

So this all leads back to the original question, and if you dissect the quintessence of smart writing that is Dry Food, you'll find a few things. Most notably, the moments that are most surprising are those that you almost don't pick up on: the little variations in dynamics spliced throughout "Easy" that make the changeup so much more appealing; the easy-listening aesthetic of "Cinammon" that fits nicely as a slight deviation; and of course the happy-go-lucky outro tune that is surprisingly resonant. All are so simple that they almost seem natural or logical, and when compounded by clear pop craftsmanship and abundant style, you get about as close of an approximation as you're going to get. Dry Food is just that – viciously witty, eccentric yet charming, and thoroughly excellent.

Track List:

  1. Molly
  2. Healthier Folk
  3. Easy
  4. Cinnamon
  5. Dry Food
  6. Dixie
  7. Cushioned Caging
  8. Seekonk
Palehound - Dry Food
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

81 / 100
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