Palehound: The Introspective Power of Boston Rock

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I have no idea what Palehound means, but Ellen Kempner and her band make music that would be a great soundtrack to petting a shaggy dog and that’s good enough for me. Regardless of the meaning behind the moniker, you could easily make a case that Palehound is Boston’s best touring rock group. Kempner is the clear leader of the trio: her voice and guitar skills dominate their sound and for good reason. She has a way of making her mark on a indie rock without changing its formula. Instead, she innovates within her genre, pushing it forward with clever changes. This is immediately apparent on “Cinnamon” from her debut album Dry Food. At the beginning of the song, guitars intertwine and snake their ways around the driving groove of the bass, drums, and rhythm guitar. Kempner also plays around with tempo and meter, playing with the listener’s expectations.

Palehound’s early music was a thoughtfully refined version of the sounds of Allston’s burgeoning DIY community, but Kempner moves way beyond this sound on tracks from her most recent full-length, A Place I’ll Always Go (2017). On “If You Met Her” and “Room,” she paints intimate portraits of close friends, but in opposite ways: “If You Met Her” contains a melancholy vignette about a trip to Dunkin Donuts with a friend who passed away, while “Room” is vague and abstract, making you search for a meaning. In both, Kempner excels at weaving melodies that feel fresh, yet comfortably clothed in the indie and grunge influences that she wears on her sleeve. The album is recorded with a very clean tone, showing off the muted beauty of her voice. A Place’s personal exploration of Kempner’s ruminations on life and love expanded on her sound and burnished her cred as a star in her scene and around the nation.

You can see a great rock band playing its heart out at the height of its local relevancy when Palehound brings it all back home with a Boston-area show at the Sinclair this Friday at 8:15pm.

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