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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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Boy Scouts - Free Company Music Album Reviews

Taylor Vick, a prolific Oakland songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, has made a generous and gorgeously empathetic chronicle of the aftermath of love.

Music briefly deserted me last year after a boy kicked my heart in the ass. No song was capacious enough for all that I felt. Not a fists-in-the-air empowerment anthem, not a fuck-you punk tirade, not even a gently masochistic ballad. Obviously, the happy stuff was out, too: the grand swoon of Wolf Parade that had scored my daydreams; the Taylor Swift hook he sang to me that one afternoon, our legs swinging from the highest platform of a children’s playground. It was a little like that stage of grief where food turns to cardboard on your tongue. Nothing tastes good; nothing sounds good. You starve; you sit in silence.

Free Company is an album I wish I’d had last autumn. Taylor Vick, an Oakland songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who performs as Boy Scouts, has made a generous and gorgeously empathetic chronicle of the aftermath of love. Through sunny arrangements and spare songwriting, Vick compresses the dust of her romantic disappointment into a glittering jewel. She loves the subject of her songs, but she loves herself, too—loves herself more, enough to step away and carry on, alone, with her head held high.

Though Boy Scouts’ backing tracks are hazy and dreamlike, calling to mind tour mate Jay Som, Vick’s writing is direct, sharp, more bee-sting than butterfly. Free Company lulls the listener with short sentences and single syllables, until a tripwire of a lyric—“And now you’re mad at me/And I’m no longer twenty-three”—sends you sprawling headfirst into her perspective. Like the prose of Sally Rooney, Vick’s lyrics explore the vast complexity of human emotion by reveling in the simplicity of its expression. The indelible chorus of “All Right,” for instance, makes a meal out of a mere eight words: “I’m all right, I swear/I’m all right, how dare you?” In a song that explores weighty, existential questions—the existence of heaven, the permanence of souls, the mortifying ordeal of being known—Vick’s verbal economy keeps her feet planted firmly on the ground.

This is not Vick’s first album as Boy Scouts. Her substantial Bandcamp output stretches back nearly a decade, studded with bedroom recordings and borrowed instruments. (On 2016’s “Homeroom Breakfast,” she offers endearing thanks to “rosie’s piano,” “scott’s guitar,” and “ben’s bass.”) What is clear in the arc from those records to this one are Vick’s substantial gifts not only as a writer, but as an editor. A throwaway line from “Homeroom Breakfast”—“Everything great has an expiration date”—resurfaces on “Free Company,” sharpened to a sad, subtle point in the service of a stronger song. A kind of emotional editing is evident, too. Vick has always contended, in her music, with rejection and resentment. But on “Free Company,” the woman who once wrote, “The world doesn’t need me like the world needs you” now writes from a position of hard-won, sober self-respect. “I don’t know why you’d fall through,” she sings. “I never did for you.”

The arc of Free Company is shot through with tender compassion, even for those who’ve wronged her. On marvelous opener “Get Well Soon,” she offers her best wishes—but “no balloons, ’cause they just die, too”—to a former love. She doesn’t apologize for asserting herself: “Hardly a fight when you know I’m right.” In the depths of her grief, on “In Ya Too,” she likens herself to “the desert sprawl—empty, but still forceful.” She is still adjusting to aloneness, but she is learning to love its strange rhythms, its small pleasures. On “Momentary Love,” perched in her “favorite place,” she lets her thoughts wander to an old love during a moment of solitude. The memory still makes her ache, but that’s okay, she sings: “This doesn’t keep me sane/But the views up here lessen the pain.”

We’ve devised no end of performative mechanisms to distance ourselves from our more unsavory emotions. But on “Free Company,” Taylor Vick dares to feel everything. Reflecting on the death of a friend, on gorgeous closer “You Were Once,” Vick sings, “I knew I’d never be the same again/I know it now and I knew it then/There is only so much you can pretend.” Vick wants her listeners to know both the fullness of her grief and the strength and spirit with which she freed herself of it. She renders each subtle swell of anger, embarrassment, and regret with something almost like gratitude, the retreat of each wave only affirming the solidity of her place on the shore.

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