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Helen Ballentine has spent a lifetime understanding that she looks neither tough nor intense. With wispy blond hair that suggests a wheat field during a radiant summer sunset, and weighing less than the average high-school sophomore, she knows how first impressions tend to go—“sweet, polite, very quiet and even meek, maybe smart,” she summarizes. Ballentine laughs when she recounts being flattened by a soccer ball in fifth grade or the family friends recently tickled by her band name, Skullcrusher. How could someone so slight and soft, they wondered, wield something so heavy and aggressive?
But listen even once to the five subversively rapturous tracks of Skullcrusher’s second EP, Storm in Summer. You’ll instantly understand the dualities at play here—the light and the dark, the harsh and the heavenly, the Skullcrusher and the seemingly soft-spoken songwriter. Ballentine’s tunes ferry a subtle but unwavering intensity, deserving of the very name they take.
Storm in Summer was written entirely during the last year, as Ballentine watched with astonishment and some anxiety as listeners parsed the words and feelings of her acclaimed self-titled debut. “These are words I wrote down in my room, and I didn’t think people would listen to them at all,” she says. “But when people are suddenly interpreting them, you think, ‘Fuck, I shouldn’t have even released this.’” Whether reckoning with her own understanding of a
songwriter only through his words during “Song for Nick Drake” or debating the respective merits of being understood versus being left alone on “Steps,” Storm in Summer presents a series of candid snapshots about what it means to sing of scars to strangers. Ballentine captures the tension of that experience—and the complexity of public existence, artistic or otherwise, in 2021.