Skullcrusher’s debut album shines through the darkness

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Jules Kelly, Staff Writer

On Oct. 14, Skullcrusher released her long-awaited debut “Quiet the Room” via Secretly Canadian. Skullcrusher, the pseudonym of Helen Ballentine, is a singer-songwriter hailing from Tarrytown, New York, just north of New York City. “Quiet the Room” is a haunting look back on the past and yearning for something simpler all told within an engulfing narrative. 

Skullcrusher utilizes quietness and opts for a more atmospheric sound on “Quiet the Room.” Her vocals are merely a whisper on the opening track “They Quiet the Room,” as well as “Could it be the way I look at everything?”

“Lullaby in February” has a gentle acoustic guitar, a soft piano and screeching violin strings as the backdrop to Ballentine’s dreamy voice. “Lullaby in February” uses a soft, lush sound at its beginning but slowly dissolves into dark and distorted noise. Ballentine has a wonderful talent on the album for being able to balance darkness and dreaminess.

Distortion and gloom are explored throughout this entire album, especially on “Building a Swing.” Enhanced by eerie strings and Ballentine’s faint voice, “Building a Swing” is the beginning of Skullcrusher’s bittersweet reflection of her past. On “Whatever Fits Together,” the singer recollects, “I left home in the summer/I cried in the stairway/When I hugged my brother/I tried to hide my face.” It’s a personal and heartbreaking memory for Ballentine that is brought to life by her dreamy vocals. Where a track like “Sticker” lacks in lyricism, it is made up for by Skullcrusher’s emotion. The song screams “loneliness” without ever saying too much.

“Quiet the Room” also uses a handful of instrumental tracks that fit the album’s aesthetic without ever saying a word. “Outside, Playing” is a wonderful folk track of nothing but an acoustic guitar. The song feels like childhood, as the simple guitar and bright sound come off as carefree and whimsical. “Whistle of the Dead” has what sounds like a child babbling their own song over a lonesome yet pretty piano. The track feels like the early works of an artist like Alex G, but it fits in beautifully on the album.

Ballentine constantly expands the sound of her debut with included folk elements. The singer utilized an ambient sound throughout this record, with an acoustic guitar as the main instrument on “It’s Like a Secret” and “Pass Through Me.” Ballentine used violins throughout the album to bring songs to a roaring conclusion as seen on “Window Somewhere” and the closing track, “You are my House.”  “Whatever Fits Together” briefly includes a light banjo and a tambourine during its climax.

The album relies on its ethereal aesthetic quite heavily, which is why those folk tracks are so important to the quality of the album. At points, songs blend together due to Ballentine’s repetitive lyrics and the overall sheer quietness of the record. The influence of other singer-songwriters like the aforementioned Alex G, as well as Giles Corey and Julien Baker, sometimes filter through too heavily thus losing Skullcrusher within her influences.

Even then, there are plenty of memorable moments to be found in “Quiet the Room.” Ballentine’s vocals are light and wonderful throughout the entirety of the album and that atmospheric sound in her vocals never wears off. The instrumentation throughout “Quiet the Room” is never anything less than gorgeous, creating a soundscape that is persistently intriguing and beautiful. 

Skullcrusher’s “Quiet the Room” is a hazy nostalgia trip of wishing for a simpler time all guided by Ballentine’s ethereal sound. While it might take a few listens to truly unfold itself, it carries depth and a story that makes you want to return to it.

ALBUM RATING: 7/10