“It’s easy to get down on yourself / When you’re surrounded by people who don’t know what goes on in your head,” Whitney Ballen sings on the title track of her latest LP, You’re a Shooting Star, I’m a Sinking Ship. It’s the irony of existing in a world filtered through social media—comparing real life to curated ones, and longing for validation that seems further away with every scroll of the touchscreen.
The album’s twelve tracks are set perfectly in Ballen’s Pacific Northwest, a place collectively pictured in a romantic mist that blots out its everyday banalities. Vocally, the Washingtonian shares space with the likes of Mirah, Laura Stevenson, and Jenny O. Describing her sound, Seattle Weekly writes, “Imagine Joanna Newsom as a ghost, benevolently haunting a cabin in the woods, and you’ll get an idea…”
In contrast to her unique voice, Ballen’s music resembles many things, and covers endless ground. There are the bedroom dreamscapes, suspended between rousing from sleep and falling back into it (“The Kiss”); nightmarish tones that growl and distort (“Black Cloud”); swells that expand and contract like the breaths of a resting lover (“Rainier”); and a dreamy mountain twang that echoes beautifully in the ear (“Mountain”). It’s all sowed with unabashedly honest lyrics that make Ballen’s music equal parts visceral, vulnerable, and resilient.
Falls, Ballen’s moody first EP, was recorded in 2014 at an old firehouse, with love letters to Olympia, Rainier, and Snoqualmie Falls. Ballen traded the firehouse for Phil Elverum’s church studio for the recording of her second EP, Being Here Is Hard. As its title suggests, this unexpected group of songs was shaped by the experience of losing people and being left to live in their absence.
You’re a Shooting Star combines influences from both of Ballen’s earlier releases—leaving the magnificent beauty of the Pacific Northwest, then longing for it and the intimate connections made with the people in the rearview. Each song is awash with jealousy, threatening to drown in the impossible storm of comparing everything we are to everything but ourselves.