Oct 14, 2022
By Michael James Hall
From her self-titled EP in 2020, through 2021’s Storm in Summer EP, Helen Ballentine (aka Skullcrusher) has keenly shifted from familiar, lush indie folk to a less traditional sound, arriving now at her debut LP.
Quiet the Room is magnificent. A spectral aurora of song, a pre-dawn dream captured in voice, piano, and guitar that’s simultaneously sunbeam light and midnight dark, elegant musings on the nature of memory that actually sound like memories. They’re fractured narratives from the raw footage of an alternately misty and illuminated past. On “Whatever Fits Together,” struck by a solitary bass drum, sprinkled with softly rising banjo and lifted by outstretched wings of swooning vocal, Ballentine asks, “Do you ever look back?/Does it fit together?” before mournfully wondering, “What do I want?/Do I want anything?”
These twilit retrospectives of intricate introspection exist within the gloaming of the liminal: “My head is pressed to my knees/And I can feel you thinking/What is this space in-between?” she recounts on “It’s Like a Secret.” Ballentine captures transition here, and heavy sadness: “I am the letter sitting on your desk/I contain all of the loneliness you won’t share with your friends,” she sings, her lyrics sparse but graciously draped across elongated vowel sounds on the wave-breaking, music-box swirl of closer “You are my House.”
Ballentine’s songwriting is casually masterful, depicting vague, indefinable moments and evoking the uncanny feelings that accompany them, as on “Lullaby in February” where Ballentine breathes, “Late at night/I can’t sleep/You held me” around an unswervingly simple acoustic guitar. “I can’t picture your face,” she whispers as a squall of sound overwhelms. It’s sublime.
Ballentine has shed the veil of her peers’ convention here entirely, creating something quietly uncompromising, unflinchingly strange, and otherworldly. It’s beautiful, moving, and utterly beguiling. (www.skullcrusher.online)
Author rating: 8.5/10
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