Under her nom de plume Skullcrusher, bi-coastal Singer-Songwriter Helen Ballentine has returned with Storm in Summer, a five-song EP set for release on Friday, April 9th through Secretly Canadian.
A fresh collection, it comes soon after her self-titled Skullcrusher debut in June of 2020. As before, Ballentine is joined by partner/collaborator Noah Weinman, and the pair juggle guitar, banjo, along with keyboards throughout. Though the instrumentation is just a bit scarcer than Skullcrusher, the banjo and piano keep their place near the acoustic guitar, with minute synthesizer scrounging around the edges at just the right amount.
As expected, the warmly haunting vocals of Ballentine quietly dominate the effort, starting with the opener, “Windshield.” The ease with which Ballentine uses a calm tone to tell her audience, “I thrust my foot through the windshield in front of you” underlines the dark tones and themes hiding in plain sight of the song, the artist, but also life. That in mind, taking the stage name Skullcrusher is not meant to be playful or ironic; instead, the violent ubiquity of everyday life is given at once an accurate but dismissible name.
The upbeat pace of the title-track stars the back nine of the EP. The track initially saw release as a single in March 2021; the accompanying music video consists mainly of a black & white long shot of Ballentine taken through a rainy window. The brief closing verse of, “I wish you could see me,” capped with, “start this storm” will leave everyone’s heart beating rapidly.
These same themes had been explored earlier with “Song for Nick Drake,” which was released in February when the full EP was still under wraps; the video for the earlier song is peppered with shots of Fleetwood station, near where Ballentine grew up. Indeed, making her home in Los Angeles now, the main themes for the EP as a whole, and these tracks in particular, came from a recent trip back home. The ode to Nick Drake reaches some eerie, celestial heights of creepiness that only he could imagine and appreciate.
Lastly, closer “,Prefer,” is a harrowing track that joyfully toys with the listener. Breaking the silence with a light electronic effect just barely escapes the sound of technical difficulties, an acoustic guitar and subtle keyboard line battle for ground underneath the chilling vocal melody. The lyrics themselves echo the title, as Ballentine echoes, “I prefer/ the rain/ in summer,” artfully dragging each line to lengths meant to elicit maximum sadness with pleasant ease, and the guitar echoes something lost in a mixture of VAST and Jeff Buckley.
Scarcely in the third year of her career, Helen Ballentine has already worn a strong, deep path filled with tantalizing vocals and wistful lyrics. Her calm delivery of harsh, emergent lyrical themes will leave listeners smiling and confused, and her softest vocals will have effects felt long after repeat listens. Cryptic Rock is pleased give Storm in Summer 4.5 of 5 stars.