On August 24 Whitney Ballen will be releasing her album, You’re a shooting star, I’m a sinking ship, via Father/Daughter records. Ahead of that release there’s this release – the single “Rainier”. Let’s talk about it for a bit.
Back in 2017 Whitney Ballen released her second EP, Being Here Is Hard. Recorded in Phil Elverum’s studio the atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest was felt throughout the five tracks. The complexion of that collection was one informed by absence and the loss of friends, and friendships. It was populated with tracks that used deeply personal motifs to convey something in the smaller spaces we occupy as life unfolds.
Now the artist is using the landscape of the Pacific Northwest as a motif. Mount Ranier, the iconic snowy peak that watches over Seattle, is referenced to measure Whitney Ballen’s immeasurable longing. The emotional charge of this track feels like it could carry travelers to the peak. Ballen sings from a place so deep within, the softness of delivery is deceptive. Like the wind, her vocal track can blow into the smallest spaces and dismantle the most resilient defense.
The sound that Ballen has developed since her last release plays well with scale. The level of intimacy the artist used to share has somehow gained height and depth. Percussive elements pulse through “Rainier”. A simple line, “I wish you were here” gets repeated over an increasing volume. A saxophone lifts off.
The breadth of Whitney Ballen’s vision has also increased. Nothing of the magic she previously achieved is lost, she compromises nothing of herself, there’s no contrivance to talk down for broader appeal. Instead the artist opens the map and brings the audience in. She draws comparison between herself and her surroundings, people and the places they know. In a time when the political and economic landscape is daunting – and all the normal compasses spin to find north, here’s an artist who points to nature as the totem. She infers the reliance that we all have on each other, and she articulates all of this with breathtaking beauty.
“Rainier” is a song that plays well in headphones. There’s a sense that Whitney Ballen writes songs to be sung an inch from your ear when no one else is listening. However, it’s also a song that’s of comparable scale to it’s namesake. This thing will be a point for reference for an audience as they head into new material. Come August, that audience is also most likely to grow in scale.