The pressure of fame can be isolating. Skullcrusher knows a thing or two about this singular, twisted feeling: shortly after unveiling her critically acclaimed self-titled debut EP back in July, the LA-based Secretly Canadian signee (real name Helen Ballentine) found herself receiving more exposure and media coverage than ever before.
While the heightened attention Ballentine received last year didn’t quite reach celebrity status, her mesmerising second collection, ‘Storm In Summer’, still arrives at a pivotal point in her career where the stakes are higher than ever. Written in the aftermath of the subsequent confidence crisis Ballentine underwent throughout the second half of 2020, this five-track EP is a delicately crafted patchwork of ideas plucked from indie history, where hushed alt-folk meets both shoegaze-y stylings and emo subtleties in one eclectic swoop.
Few musicians would openly admit that offering their music to the world would leave them feeling tangled in conflicting, cyclical bursts of alienation and wonder, but on the scintillating ‘Storm In Summer’, Ballentine channels all of this restless tension into her gauzy, earnest songs.
‘Steps’, a brisk and cathartic meditation on the lessons that come with finally being understood – something Ballentine initially struggled with as her first EP’s reflective, anxiety-riddled lyrics were analysed by fans and critics alike – accentuates her growth. “Wanting someone to be there / Also wanting no-one to ask me how I feel,” she sings softly; the lyrics’ cutting simplicity revealing a major personal reckoning.
A pared-back guitar accompanies Ballentine’s fluttering vocals on ‘Song For Nick Drake’ as she lays down an elegantly constructed ode to the late singer-songwriter. Intimate flourishes continue to prove to be potent throughout: Ballentine and her partner, multi-instrumentalist Noah Weinman, can be heard whistling together at the start of opener ‘Windshield’, while a distorted synth line crackles against the tape on ‘Prefer’. These uniquely gentle tracks recall Laura Marling‘s recent album ‘Song For Our Daughter’, which was also lavished with many acoustic intricacies.
‘Storm In Summer’ glistens as it hits on a personal truth for Ballentine: her continued willingness to be so open in her music has led towards a greater sense of emotional clarity. As Ballentine’s six-string waltzes with her lover’s swirling banjo on the quietly enthralling title track, a forthright declaration is made: “I wish you could see me start this storm.” You can only imagine Skullcrusher rising from the embers of vulnerability as she sings this line.
- Release date: April 9
- Record label: Secretly Canadian