The only episode I’ve ever seen of Boardwalk Empire was the pilot back in 2010. Good episode, but I’m bad at committing to TV shows, so I haven’t seen any Boardwalk Empire since then. I don’t remember Aleksa Palladino, who played the wife of Michael Pitt’s character, but IMDB tells me that she did in fact cross the screen in the one episode that I watched. Friends who watch the show say they liked her character, Angela Darmody, all the way up until she was (SPOILER ALERT) killed off in season two at the end of 2011. Though it couldn’t have been a treat to find out that you’re being written out of a show, at least the end of Palladino’s Boardwalk stint allowed her more time to focus on her brooding, atmospheric music, which she and her husband, Devon Church, make as Exitmusic.
Palladino called her character’s death “devastating,” which might explain why Passage, the duo’s full-length debut, is such a beautiful bummer. All 10 songs swim in a muddy bath of the-Jesus-And-Mary-Chain-style electric guitar noise that could soundtrack a haunted house. Matching this eeriness is Palladino’s bewitching voice. She’s most comfortable rattling around her lower register, whispering, pushing on the vibrato or throwing out a more operatic belt like a raven-haired Zola Jesus. Palladino reveals her full vocal arsenal on Passage‘s opening title track. While the song does make for an attention-getting start, with Palladino wailing like a wounded animal, it also feels melodramatic. “The Night” is a better ease-in to Exitmusic’s sound. Palladino supplies her own breathy backing vocal as her frontwoman voice slithers along over the droning notes of a synthesizer, which are mimicked by a distorted guitar.
Exitmusic fills every nook of its songs with dark, moody sound. Even when there’s a brief pause on “White Noise,” you can still hear the residue of the swirling, heavy-hearted atmospherics hanging in the air. That’s also the approach the band takes with lyrics: Palladino never cracks a smile. Every word is delivered with this sad conviction that times are tough and things probably aren’t going to get better. “How long must I await you/And the sun that won’t come out?” Palladino asks on “Storms.” It’s pretty bleak stuff, or better yet, it’s pretty, bleak stuff: Palladino and Church may drown their sorrows in a pool of gloomy effects, but they still make even the most heartbreaking sentiments sound sweet.