Album Review: Penny Peach — ‘Brain Gamez’

2021 is the year of reinvention, and Penny Peach’s Brain Gamez is the perfect soundtrack. Penny Peach is the multi-talented Elly Hofmaier. The singer, writer and recent University of Iowa grad released this carefully crafted five-track EP on March 5 along with an apt message: “just tryna get my mind right.”

This album unfolds like the world’s most dangerous butterfly. The first track is a prologue that expertly guides us into a genre-defying aural trip. Titled “Think More Deeply,” this is what would play at a prom if Fiona Apple was in charge of the music. If Donna Summer had come of age in the post-Reagan era and hired Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead to be her guitarist, this is how she might sound.

“Think More Deeply” is followed by “Self-Help,” which is best absorbed in a smoky basement while enjoying a mid-shelf scotch from your hip flask. “Self-Help” is garage punk poetry that gives us our first taste of Hofmaier’s fearless vocal style. It’s the perfect lead-in to “Laurelz.”

“Laurelz” is probably my favorite song on the album. Our riot grrrl foremothers would be so proud. Inspired by the darkest of ’60s psychedelia (is doom-psych a genre? It is now), “Laurelz” also features some of Hofmaier’s most experimental vocalizations. Her tone drifts from sarcastic to matter-of-fact, between humor and apprehension.

This feels like a good point to reiterate the care with which this album has been assembled. This is not the sophomore product of an overwhelmed amateur. Even as she plays with style, her performance remains consistently self-assured.

It’s that attitude, imbued in every song, that truly unifies this body of work. Compared to “Laurelz,” the track that follows is a stylistic 180. “Leddin It All Go” is a soul-inspired ode to the before times and the reasons we reinvent ourselves in the first place: to put the past behind us and move forward into what is hopefully a bright new future.

The song begins, sweet and melancholic, with Hofmaier easily strumming her guitar. This is before she exercises her full vocal range, building up to a primal yell that—one presumes—signifies the actual act of letting go, so to speak.

(Disclaimer: “Leddin It All Go” contains emergency sirens, which is an audio pet peeve of mine. Are we not in agreement, as a culture and as a species, that emergency sirens in music need to go?)

Hofmaier saves her best-known song for last. “Bangz” is relatable as hell and the perfect sign-off for the record of this era. This is Penny Peach at her most soulful. She leaves us with “Maybe I’ll go by Eleanor / or maybe I’ll cut my bangz.”

Oh man. Maybe this is my favorite song on the album. She should perform a duet with Lizzo. They’d be perfect together singing about 2 a.m. takeout and losing their house keys.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 293.

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