Skullcrusher, “Skullcrusher” EP
Thinking about who you should be can be a paralyzing inner monologue. Finding a purpose, finding meaning, finding stability in this world can seem like a distant fantasy, especially when you’re a young creative mind reeling through the world that doesn’t value you if you’re not, by a capitalist definition, profitable. This anxiety and fear is sewn into the breathtaking songs that Helen Ballentine releases as Skullcrusher.
Her self-titled debut EP was born after she decided to quit her pursuits in studio art and pivot into vulnerability and the unknown. “I wrote these songs in my room while unemployed,” she plainly writes on her Bandcamp. Far from the juiced-up lads that populate Google when you search her music, Ballentine toils with mind-bending issues of a different sort. “Do you think that I’m going places?” she sings on the opener “Places/Plans.” Ballentine questions her self-worth and success if it’s not “a name on a door.” Will those around her love her the same if not?
Through warm and raw acoustic strums and piano strokes that trickle like a surprise sunshower, Skullcrusher is a short-but-deep dive into how interpersonal relationships impact our own understanding of ourselves. Although the atmosphere is gentle, sprawling, maybe even pastoral, Ballentine doesn’t allow for her music to become sanguine. Her vocals are hushed and almost deceivingly charming.
For instance, “Trace,” which eventually opens up into a lush horizon of tiny finger plucking and sorrowful orchestral synths, showcases her voice’s ability to undertake a rainbow of desperation, anger, confusion, and resentment. Throughout the song she cozies up to a companion who was ready to make a run for it; her repetition of the phrase “Strangely I need you more” paints a dire hunger for connection.
The final verse finds her voice only a touch softer, but somehow more intense as she asks: “When you come over / You don’t ask me how my day went.” There’s newfound urgency, but now she’s afraid to leave what was once a delusional comfort. “If I get up will it be worse? If I stay here what is that worth?” The song’s heart is uneasy, but Ballentine’s specificity and openness is effortless and complex.
Skullcrusher is an exciting, strange collection of songs from a new songwriter who showcases immense promise. Ballentine finds a way to find reconciliation in discomfort. In under fifteen minutes, she’s able to reveal human paradoxes about eliciting advice and how being planless can be suffocating, as well as liberating.