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Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a tense, beautiful, lo-fi landmark from the second wave of black metal.
In the fall of 1971, a child is born in a remote village in Norway. He will one day rechristen himself Fenriz, after the Earth-swallowing wolf, Fenrir, who appears in Norse mythology and the Satanic Bible. But for now, he is Gylve Nagell, being raised by his grandmother, spending inordinate amounts of time alone. The pivotal moments of his childhood occur while listening to records, music introduced to him by an eccentric uncle named Stein. Pink Floyd catches his ear; a few songs by the Doors hold his attention; but it’s the English progressive rock band Uriah Heep that blows his mind. He’s entranced by the heavy organ sound, the cryptic lyrics, and the mysterious men with long hair who appear on the album’s cover. He cherishes the triple-fold LP like an heirloom from…

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Baby Rose - To Myself Music Album Reviews

With a voice that evokes Nina Simone’s, the 24-year-old Atlanta soul singer uses her debut album to explore post-breakup intimacies of pain and desire.

Since the days of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, rejecting domesticity has been part of the blues lady agenda. In her 1998 book Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, Angela Davis wrote that leading blueswomen “challenged the notion that women’s ‘place’ was in the domestic sphere” by making very few allusions to marriage, domesticity, or motherhood. Instead, counter to social expectations for women then and even now, they presented themselves as independent.

Atlanta soul singer Baby Rose, whose cavernous voice evokes that of Nina Simone, references domesticity just once on her debut album, To Myself. The mention arrives early on opening track “Sold Out,” when she sings of a past lover with whom she’d considered settling down. “When we was together/I was like spouse/Right beside you/Playing house,” she sings in a velvety, bittersweet contralto, recalling the relationship before it turned “upside down.” Unlike her foremothers, Baby Rose doesn’t hesitate to admit that she once bought into the domestic fantasy. But throughout To Myself, her voice bears the emotional weight and range of the blues, exploring post-breakup intimacies of pain and desire as she works to shatter the glowing facade of her previous life.

For much of the album, Baby Rose wrestles with her polarized feelings towards her ex. On the yearning ballad “Borderline,” she dramatizes her indecisiveness about whether to go back to her man or leave him for good. Though it’s a well-worn metaphor, already used by Madonna and the Black Eyed Peas, Rose’s masterful and commanding voice paints shades of nuance, pooling and pouring out her vowels like thick molasses. Other songs encode more subtle emotional tensions: The Daniel Caesar-esque “Mortal,” which compares her ex-lover’s magnetism to a strong undertow, squares up against the vengeful blues ballad “Ragrets,” where Rose’s brooding mind can only remember him as an evil heartbreaker full of “poison.”

To Myself’s richness lies in how the intricate, multi-layered production accentuates her warm and expressive voice. The hook of “Pressure” is five words long (“Pressure/Keeps holding me back”), but like Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, Baby Rose can extrapolate mournful meaning from just a few syllables, her voice hesitant and stumbling as she reaches the end of the phrase. A fidgety electric guitar and a drum backbeat that seems to stop and reverse every couple of bars only contribute to the feeling of uncertainty.

On the album’s centerpiece “All to Myself,” Rose is paired with just sparse piano and organ as she recalls the feeling of being alone at 3 a.m., debating whether to drunkenly call her ex. To record the song, she downed mimosas and tequila in the studio, a method-acting approach that results in a moving and raw performance suffused with moans and labored breaths. Even small noises, like her whine at the end of the word “complicated,” become little universes of desperation and sorrow.

“I had all bets in being a housewife with this guy and not even thinking about music as my first go to, even though I knew this was my purpose,” Rose told Pigeons & Planes, hinting at how the expectations of domesticity can sidetrack women’s careers. The conflict at the heart of To Myself is not just about one choosing to leave one person, but about making the decision to change your trajectory, to rewrite part of your identity. Like the blueswomen before her, Baby Rose forges her own path.

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