Photo: Silken Weinberg / Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR

Skullcrusher’s Debut EP Is a Melancholic Slice of Indie Slacker-Folk

If you haven't yet been driven mad by quarantine. then this insular stay-at-home record from indie folk's Skullcrusher may be for you.

Secretly Canadian
24 July 2020

What you may like about this record is that it wears its melancholy very well. Maybe you’d have to qualify the name of the artist to your friends a little: “Yeah, I know, but listen to it anyway; it’s one of those.” Maybe it’s not ideal for record sales that Skullcrusher (aka Helen Ballentine) has made a wan indie folk EP that comes with the name of a metal band attached to it. Maybe it’s ironic, but this record doesn’t seem all that keen on irony. Maybe this record’s implied author is like a sleepwalker that could turn violent if disturbed. Maybe it just sounded cool (and yes, this has been done before, but that doesn’t explain this strange incongruity), and it’s the critical tendency to attempt to resolve issues like this that’s the problem.

Nevertheless, one of its other endearing qualities is its ambience. The music sometimes seems to melt into the vocals so that you less have to listen to it than bathe in it. Maybe if you were to take issue with this record then you, might say that it’s a little dull, in that all the songs sound very similar and that the lyrics are often about things like cutting your hair, not leaving the house, breathing, or even doing nothing at all. But what could be seen as faults seem inherently tied to this EP’s positive qualities. Tunes might have even got in the way of the feeling of continuity on this record since while it only comprises four songs, you could play it on repeat and just have it be there with you without even hearing the joins.

There are inevitable comparisons to be made between Skullcrusher and Cat Power, but it should be made clear that these need not be purely to do with how they occupy the same section on the record rack. It’s more that both of these artists manage the vulnerability of an acutely intense nature, which is a fascinating combination. “I wrote these songs in my room while unemployed,” it says on Skullcrusher’s Bandcamp page. If you find that statement to be a little annoying in its mildly passive-aggressive tone, then maybe you won’t like this record so much. Quentin Tarantino likes to talk about “hangout movies”, pictures that are less about plot than just being around the characters. This is something of a hangout record, but that might make it all the more disagreeable if you don’t care for the company of fey indie types who wear fairy wings in their videos.

It would be remiss to ignore the fact that many of us are stuck inside at the moment. Still, the synchronicity between our current situation and the subject matter of much of this record is perhaps less apt than it may seem at first blush, given that most people are desperately trying to get out rather than reveling in being stuck inside and cutting their hair. Radiohead’s “Climbing the Walls” would be a better fit for many of us. One of the most apt comparisons to be made here is with early 1990s indie cinema (the EP’s accompanying videos too, but that’s less important). The inhabitants of pictures like Richard Linklater’s Slacker seem to be all too glad of their indolence and ennui, and so it seems does this record. “Try to figure out what to wear / For a day I’ll spend alone in my room,” go the lyrics to “Day of Show”, and that’s a good reflection of the record’s feeling as a whole. It’s almost decadent, in that its speaker often seems akin to slothful characters like Huysmans’ des Esseintes, who sits idly at home for practically the entirety of the novel, A Rebours.

These songs seem to drift like fading memories. Still, at the same time, they may set off your hipster alarm and leave you thinking that people (our current situation notwithstanding) should be doing something more practical than singing songs about sitting on their backsides all day. “I don’t have any plans for tomorrow,” sings Ballentine on “Places/Plans”, and if you don’t either, then this is certainly worth 20 minutes of your time. Hell, leave it on all day and hope it rains.

RATING 7 / 10