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When: March 07, 2016

The thing I find over and over again with American alt-rock bands is how damn good they usually are. I might not necessarily love what they’re all doing but there is a virtuosity, joie de vivre and total focused commitment on delivering the goods sonically that is utterly convincing. This was one of my guides for last year’s Great Escape Festival – if in doubt check out an American offering – and for the most part this came up trumps (thank you Wand, The Garden, Ho66o6.)

Then at Mutations festival, Om, Josh T Pearson and Lightning Bolt all tore the roof off in different ways, all masters of their craft. Why is this? Possibly the huge amount of shows an American act will have to play in order to gain an audience but I also suspect it’s something in the American psyche – a boundary-pushing mentality when faced with the vastness of that land, a determination to succeed, to be awesome. Who knows?

Palehound come from Boston. Their debut LP has been picked up by Heavenly in the UK after being released in the US last year and they continue this fine tradition of stateside alt-rock. While not necessarily pushing envelopes or blowing minds, Palehound do have a virtuosic command of their tools and create a beautiful sound. They are essentially Ellen Kempner, who writes and sings the songs as well as playing all instruments except drums on the album.

The LP opens with ‘Molly’ cantering along at a good pace, catchy with pop hooks and a fantastic deranged hoedown tempo shift section towards the end. On the one hand it’s a great album opener as it grabs attention but after such a moneyshot tune the rest of the LP feels a little like a post-coital haze. But that’s really not so bad, post-coital hazes being a pleasant space to be in. In fact the songs that follow are almost like the deep, heart-opening chats that may occur after some good loving rather than just nodding off. It feels intimate and personal.

There are more giddy tempo changes as the LP unfolds, with a definite jazz influence and Ellen’s eminently listenable vocals present throughout. I’d put this album down as a grower, keep listening and more will be revealed. It’s also a great starting point. I’m keen to learn where Palehound go next, how the sound will be developed. Big potential.

Palehound live at Sticky Mike’s in Brighton were great and I can feel slightly smug that findings in paragraph one are again proven correct. Virtuosity in the service of emotion, of which there was plenty, raw but channelled with precision and control but also with joy and carefree abandon in places. The rhythm section were taut but swinging, the bass player a force of nature resplendent in bee costume borrowed from support act Garden Centre (one to watch, treading a fine line between irritating and endearing but undoubtedly original).

There is a sense of cathartic alchemy in Ellen’s songs, the delivery coming from the heart and covering painful topics but ultimately transmuting personal shit into pure gold. There’s plenty of between-song banter; apparently Ellen has opened up over the course of their debut UK tour and tonight she created real rapport with the audience, who lapped it up. I’m reminded of seeing PJ Harvey back before she was signed, a power trio of big talent and huge potential.

I always know when I’m at a great gig as I’ll be down the front with a stoopid grin on my face, having hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck moments. Definitely the case tonight.

Words and wobbly photo: Jake Smith

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