Ellen Kempner needs just a few lines to circumscribe her concerns. Indie-rock trio Palehound has had its look at romance and hurt and all those good things, but Kempner presses on. Their third album, Black Friday picks up some of those ideas, but songwriter and driving force Kempner sitting in moody heartbreak is not one of them. She’s alone when she’s with someone. She’s empathetic when she’s in pain. She’s relatable when she takes a microscope-level look at the things that concern her. Those topics, primarily, circle around how we relate to others in trying situations, and how we relate to ourselves.

The opening lines – “And if you quit smoking/ Will you just start drinking?” – don’t offer much hope. Kempner’s partner in “Company” keeps her company but without much depth of companionship. Palehound looks through the confusion with keen insight and knowing lyricism. Her status, with someone but troubled and unsure about it, guides the album. The band has found itself by now, but Kempner, or at least her singers, can never quite be sure. How can you know if you’re worthy? How do you deal with your own body? How can you move forward with these questions unanswered?

One solution for Kempner is to provide support to others even as she sifts through her own issues. There’s little sense of community on Black Friday – much of the album involves one-on-one pairings with some peripheral figures – but the compassion she shows provides a foundation for something healthy. Immediately after “Company” comes “Aaron,” a song where she offers support for her partner’s transitioning. Over a pulsing guitar, Kempner sings, “And, my friend, if you want me to I’ll call you Aaron/ I can, I can, I can.” While encouraging, the songs avoid both self-congratulation and the suggestion of an easy narrative. We’re still in progress here, with backs turned, but good news is still possible.

Black Friday negotiates hard situations with perseverance. Kempner can still have a little fun. On rocker “Stick N Poke,” she settles into her bitterness and dismay at the way the world works before realizing there’s only one solution: “I think I’m due for a shitty tattoo.” The line comes tongue-in-cheek, but it does little to disguise the pain behind the thought. The tone and melody might have made ’90s radio, but the breakup must have happened last week.

Again, Kempner moves to support others. On “Killer” she heads out for revenge, not the healthiest outlet for supporting someone close to you, but a functional catharsis in song. “Bullshit” offers less help, as she finds herself unable to help someone with depression. “What can I do when all my truth just sounds like bullshit to you?” she sings over an oddly peaceful track. The bright tones of the song inhibit despair, a good balance to the dismay nearly omnipresent in wordy efforts to overcome a mental health disorder.

By the end of the album, Palehound doesn’t sound like it’s in a better place. Kempner continues to ask questions with no easy answers, and the fear of loss remains. However, she sends us out with a light of hope, singing, “Nothing worth loving ever sticks around/ But you.” It’s hard to know who the “you” is or how things will go. We’re still not sure if Kempner (or her singers, to avoid reading too much confessionalism into the album) will learn that one of the things worth loving is herself. It’s possible, though, to see a way forward that may leave us not unafraid but at least also not uninspired.

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