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Pillow Queens' Name Your Sorrow has all the marks of a classic

"Name Your Sorrow"

Release date: 19 April 2024
Pillow Queens Name Your Sorrow Artwork
01 May 2024, 09:00 Written by Will Yarbrough

When Pillow Queens arrived in 2016, they were recognized as an exciting new possibility for what a band could mean and rightfully so.

Ireland has produced its fair share of politicized bands, but never one with four gay girls who can wring harmony out of life in a notoriously Catholic country.

But a band can’t live off buzz alone. First albums bring some semblance of validation, and while it’s the next one that can potentially make or break a career, it’s the often-overlooked third album that determines whether you have any staying power. Bands that are lucky enough to be put in this position are presented with two options: stick to the blueprint or risk reinvention. On their third album, Pillow Queens manage to split the difference. The improvements are minor, but Name Your Sorrow is the tightest and most tender offering from one of the most consistently satisfying bands in indie rock.

Name Your Sorrow does not start with a bang. The synths need a few seconds to warm up before the album opens on a snare drum clicking with all the nervous anticipation of a time bomb. Heavily distorted guitars needle and quiver, as if looking for an opening to strike. I can imagine a band like Kings of Leon would be tempted into cutting that tension with arena-roaring bombast. Even Pillow Queens hint in that direction. "No, I'm not sad / No I'm not sad / Let's just play some rock and roll music". But "February 8" lets the tension simmer. The song sits and stews with those conflicting emotions, the chorus barely rising above the throb of feedback.

That Name Your Sorrow continues to flow along with melancholic restraint comes as a pleasant shock. After all, Pillow Queens are not the type to mess around. These Irish lasses have churned through album cycles faster than some hardcore bands. But this time around, they proceeded at a more workmanlike pace. For the better part of the past two years, every day, from 9 to 5, they jammed inside a windowless practice space. When the need for fresh air arose, they retreated to coastal County Clare, where those jam sessions were condensed into digestible pieces. By the time they entered Analogue Catalogue studio, these songs were practically set in stone.

Such a carefully drawn-out approach to songwriting can spell trouble, especially for a band with Pillow Queens' spunk. Name Your Sorrow sounds immaculate. Collin Pastore — who's produced several albums within the boygenius universe — applies the same supple fixtures. The drums snap like twigs. The bass lines crest and hum, while the vocals never fail to float atop the mix. Do I miss the punkish charm of their earliest singles? Maybe a little, though "So Kind" comes close with its bittersweet jangle.

But any band can make a lot of noise when given the right pedals. The mark of a great one is knowing how to amplify the emotions. And make no mistake about it: Name Your Sorrow confirms that Pillow Queens are a great band. Listen to how the acoustic and electric guitars snipe at each other from opposing speakers during the cheekily embittered "Friend of Mine". Their attention to detail shines through even when they do reach for the rafters on "Blow Up the World". A piano tiptoes in the background, walking on eggshells as the band try to avoid a romantic squabble, before Pamela Connolly throws down her proverbial gloves.

"Your silence burns us to the ground", she scolds, inviting a guitar solo that flairs like Prince over a rainy Super Bowl.

Politics still have a say on Name Your Sorrow. "Heavy Pour" flips gender stereotypes in with its fuzzy garage rock to stress how queer relationships are poisoned by the same toxic behavior. But Pillow Queens aren't afraid to get even more personal on this album. "I don't want to ruin my life, but I wanna go home with you", they harmonize on "Like A Lesson", which recalls the soft rockin' heartbreak that ruled '90s radio. All of these songs seem to tie back into the dissolution of a relationship, the kind that requires therapy or a stiff drink. "The Bar's Closed" hits rock bottom slowly but surely, lost in a flickering post-punk afterglow, but the ones that shine the most summon the strength to reach the high road. The spartan march of "Suffer" cedes to the album's softest and sharpest chorus, one that affirms love is truly a battlefield.

Name Your Sorrow doesn't go out with a bang, either. Instead, "Notes on Worth" sneaks up on you, drifting with insecurity amidst tired swirls of pump organ, only to arrive at a hard-won realization. "I'm worth the time", Connolly beams, as if reflecting off the pooled reverb. Calling this album consistently satisfying might come off like a dig. Quite the opposite, actually. It's the mark of a classic.

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