EP Review: Skullcrusher — ‘Skullcrusher’

Posted: by The Editor

Skullcrusher, the project of Los Angeles musician Helen Ballentine, has a name that would tell its listener to expect something approaching heavy metal, rather than contemplative balladry. While the four songs of their eponymous debut EP may not be full of shredding guitars or screamed vocals, they’re still full of heft. Ballentine’s music is emotional and honest, eliciting nostalgia for just the idea of the past. Like many great hardcore and punk releases, Skullcrusher clocks in at just under 12 minutes, making it prime for repeat listens.

“Places/Plans” is one hell of a first impression. The EP’s lead single is lush, filled with muted acoustic guitar and sweeps of spectral synths. Ballentine asks a friend a litany of questions, perhaps not expecting any answers, before inviting them in to come sit. In the video, whose direction carries the eerie brightness of The Virgin Suicides, we see Ballantine on a swing. The slow back and forth of her on it is mirrored in the track’s tempo. The song’s calm demeanor is encapsulated well by the lines swelling at its culmination, “‘cause I don’t have any plans for tomorrow.”

On “Trace”, plucky guitar strings and chilling piano keys take turns conjuring up the more Americana focused moments of Alex G’s Rocket. Ballentine is mulling over making a choice. She’s deliberating the worth of settling or moving on from an unfulfilling situation, repeating “if I stay here / what is that worth?” as the sparse but affecting instrumentation spirals upward. 

Skullcrusher’s music feel like 10AM on a Sunday; sunlight filtering in through sheer curtains. It never breaks from sounding like a satisfying exhale, like palpable relief. Each song is the product of Ballentine’s mentally turbulent time in unemployment. It is a testament to the kind of work that can be forged when artists are given the proper space needed to create. When we will hear more from such a promising upstart? While there is no information of a follow up, Skullcrusher is one of the most impressive and succinct introductions to a project in recent memory. In the meantime, listeners will have to wait, and maybe listen to this while lying in the grass at the park.


Eric Bennett | @seething_coast

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