Palehound’s Ellen Kempner has spent the past four years building up one of the most distinct styles in indie rock. Her songs often present a low-key front, but there’s a lot going on underneath her dreamy guitar parts and soft-edged vocals. Listen closely to “Cinnamon,” from 2015’s Dry Food, or “Turning 21,” from 2017’s A Place I’ll Always Go and you’ll register vivid hues of desire and loss just under the surface.
“Aaron,” from Palehound’s just-announced album Black Friday (out June 7th), is another understated stunner. The song starts with a promise: “My friend, if you want me to, I’ll call you Aaron/I can, I can, I can, I can, I can…” Kempner gets a lot of feeling into those last two syllables, pledging her devotion in a tone that’s fierce and tender at the same time. The song keeps rephrasing that theme before finally bursting into bright melody and sunlit imagery in the chorus: “And the water’s warm, but it still stings your shins when you are wading in/It’s worth the swim.”
The emotions in “Aaron” feel real because they are. “Aaron is a character that represents my partner, who is trans,” Kempner explained in a press statement. “It’s not specific to his experience, though…It’s about learning to be comfortable in our skins, whether that means changing our bodies or mindsets.” What she means by the song is simple enough — I’ll be there for you, whatever it takes — but Kempner knows that’s no reason not to say it, again and again.