A debut album not of death metal but one full of ambient, dreamy folk with gossamer light arrangements that don’t so much crush your skull as massage it gently
A band name like Skullcrusher may suggest death metal, or at the very least, extremely heavy rock – music full of blistering guitars and screamed vocals to batter you into listening submission.
What you may not expect is an album full of ambient, dreamy folk – almost gossamer light arrangements that don’t so much crush your skull as massage it gently until you’re lulled into a state of bliss. This is Helen Ballentine’s Skullcrusher, and her debut album Quiet The Room is pretty mesmerising.
Although now based in Los Angeles, Ballentine was brought up in New York state, and it’s that childhood which forms the inspiration for much of Quiet The Room. Some songs were written on the piano she learned to play on as a child, and many tracks involve Ballentine looking back on her upbringing, but without the cosy nostalgia that such reminisces usually go hand in hand with. Her music manages to be both comforting and unsettling, beautiful yet fractured in some way.
Although the early Skullcrusher EPs nodded to the likes of Nick Drake as a major influence, her sound has evolved on this debut album. There are hints of Mazzy Star in the opening haze of They Quiet The Room, with a gently strummed acoustic guitar before Ballentine softly intones “where do you want to be? Some place you cannot see”.
This yearning for an unspecified place is beautifully embodied in Skullcrusher’s music, and it’s a motif that crops up repeatedly on Quiet The Room. Whatever Fits Together is seemingly light and breezy but with a chorus of “what do I want, do I want anything”. It’s Like A Secret sees Ballentine muse that “I can’t measure it, the asymptotic miss, the place i want to be, the one I cannot see”, and it sounds like the saddest thing on earth.
The nostalgia continues on songs like the instrumental Outside Playing, which begins like a music box before developing into a lovely, sprawling melody which, despite having no lyrics, manages to conjure up images of long-forgotten summer days playing in fields. Lullaby In February starts with the chirps of crickets and ends with a distant doomy rumble that lasts over a minute – the perfect encapsulation of Skullcrusher’s blend of wistfulness and portentous menace.
Quiet The Room is, admittedly, not the most immediate of albums. It’s rather a record to take your time with and to soak into, while admiring the way each track is beautifully constructed – from the 30 second interlude of Could It Be The Way I Look At Everything, to the more fully formed numbers like the starkly beautiful closing track You Are My House, which has the air of an even more downbeat Phoebe Bridgers.
None of this is going to trouble the charts, or even daytime radio, but that hardly matters. Quiet The Room is the perfect introduction to Helen Ballentine’s hazy, dreamy world – a world you’ll want to spend an awful lot of time in once you experience it.