The ’90s were the last, and in fact, the most definitive epoch in the music discovery evolution that grew from early DJs introducing new singles on the radio, to the music streaming ‘arms race’ that has managed to reduce the experience of finding a new band to a Google search, a click of the mouse, or spending five minutes on iTunes listening to bands that have nice headshots.
Once upon a time, I would venture into a Backside Records (because that’s what you did), or aimlessly roam the aisles of a Virgin Megastore; reveling in the ‘shot in the dark’ experience (think Kurt Cobain shopping in a Salvation Army in Aberdeen), of buying a record that had twelve tracks, all of which I had never heard before the five-minutes I spent on a dirty headphone sampling booth, which required the dedication of a music fan willing to purchase new ‘merch’ at a gig, even push through a pit (risking bodily harm) to get close enough to feel the spray of sweat from the bass players fingertips. It was a time where unless you were vacuous enough to subscribe to “free” CD mailers from Columbia House, you would have to engage in a music hunting bloodsport to discover new bands that weren’t being reviewed by Rolling Stone or part of an MTV music video show hosted by Kennedy or Kurt Loder. All of which, if you’ve been living in a cave since 1998, no longer exist.
Ellen Kempner, now nineteen-years-old, was born right around the time Kurt Cobain was found dead in his Lake Washington greenhouse. She’s a product of the ’90s, and while she may not have had the opportunity to see Shannon Hoon’s acid-induced Woodstock performance, or purchase Vans and flannel-shirts without being ‘vintage,’ she somehow seems to perfectly tap into the insular, somewhat quirky, and angst-filled emotions that so many artists embodied during the ’90s — when being sarcastically unhappy was the topic of reality TV shows and song lyrics that embodied the now extinct remnants of ‘Seattle Sound.’
The Yonkers-based rocker, who’s been writing songs since she was ten years old, casts the same sort of poetic spell through a languorously acoustic intro to her debut single, “Pet Carrot,” which offers the lost ’90s art of blending insulated melancholic melodies, with irreverent lyrics that are deliberately detached, like Nirvana on MTV’s Unplugged, and taps into the misunderstood emotions of a teenager who seems to embody an aloof and contradictory musical tinge that borrows from Liz Phair, Shannon Hoon, and the less serious side of Cobain, and even Kim Deal. Joined by Carlos Hernandez (bass) and Julian (drums) of Ava Luna; nineteen-year-old Ellen Kempner’s Palehound project recently issued “Pet Carrot” as a teaser to their first EP, Bent Nail, which is set for cassette and digital release on October 22nd via Exploding in Sound Records.
Exploding in Sound, which houses ’90s grunge and punk-sounding outfits like Speedy Ortiz, and now, Palehound, seems to be the ideal group to issue Palehound’s first EP. Recording in Brooklyn’s Gravesend Recordings, Kempner’s songwriting has focused on some of the same topics Katy Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) dealt with on Cerulean Salt; except unlike Crutchfield (who is now 24), Kempner is discussing her current state of emotions on a collection of songs that could please everyone from smart teenagers, to thirty-somethings tearing up to memories of listening to “1979” on the radio over-and-over again in 1995.
“This collection of songs definitely exhibits my uncomfortable shift from teenage-hood to ‘adulthood,’ says Kempner. “And the fact that regardless of what I felt like I should be as an adult, I still felt the same as I did when I was fifteen.”