They say the unfolding of the human heart is both artful and mysterious, and the path to personal enlightenment that ensues is never linear, orderly, or predictable. It can be one hell of a downward spiral, at times, as many an iconic artist have depicted in their work. American singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe‘s upcoming full-length “She Reaches Out to She Reaches Out to She,” set for release via Loma Vista Recordings on February 9th, 2024, is a powerful, cathartic musical statement on this subject with its ten new songs about cutting ties and stepping into your authenticity. Taken at face value, an overarching theme like this sure might resonate with the air of crystal-healing white magic and whatnot but, believe me, there is nothing particularly New-Agey about the album. Rather, this new selection comes off as a long, unrelenting fall through the abyss into the light – that is, nightmare fuel for the weak of heart. For someone who has cultivated perhaps a little bit of an unhealthy attachment to the gloomy, mid-1990s trip-hop aesthetic, the prominence of electronic elements may prove an instant winner as the overall feel of the album is something akin to NINE INCH NAILS collaborating with PORTISHEAD. Obviously, I fell in love with it after the very first spin.
As Wolfe explains the peculiar album title, this endeavor is ”about the past self reaching out to the present self reaching out to the future self to summon change, growth, and guidance.” This sentiment is brought to the fore right off the bat in the opener, “Whispers in the Echo Chamber,” with the lyrics going, “Twisting the old self into poetry,” and, “Bathing in the blood of who I used to be.” The impact is pretty soul-crushing as Wolfe half-whispers these sibylline predictions of weal and woe in the verses, with the music triggering haunting flashbacks of Trent Reznor‘s early 1990s efforts under the NIN moniker. The explosive chorus puts the icing on the cake. As one YouTube commentator aptly put it, this woman does not fuck around, does she?
Perhaps due to the more uptempo beat, “House of Self-Undoing” sounds far less ominous, although it deals with becoming sober and reckoning with a life spent being only half-present. The dark, post-punk-ish, and industrial sound is slightly reminiscent of the Danish dub-techno wizard, TRENTEMØLLER, circa 2010. Up until now, I had always thought of Wolfe as a metal artist, first and foremost. Then again, I was introduced to her through RUSSIAN CIRCLES, for whose 2013 album “Memorial” she contributed her haunting vocals. Her later collaborations with Myrkur and DEAFHEAVEN might have led me to dub her a metalhead. Her back catalog is quite versatile with ample elements of neofolk, metal, and – yes! – electronic music. Her 2019 effort “Birth of Violence” echoed the folkier side of things, whereas “Hiss Spun,” two years earlier, burrowed deep into heaviness. The pulsing electronics and grainy break beats were there already in her 2013 outing “Pain Is Beaty,” an album that must have slipped past my all-seeing eye! On this new album, the electronic stuff draws quite prominently from the darker back alleys of Bristol, circa 1995, maybe minus the spliff-induced paranoia.
Showcasing Wolfe‘s spectacular versatility, the album does not only roll out grainy triphop vignettes, although the track, “The Liminal,” could well have fitted PORTISHEAD‘s eponymous 1997 outing with its wistful film-noir electronica. First, “Everything Turns Blue” narrates a story about self-discovery in the wake of an ending, clad in nightmare electronica with a touch of PJ Harvey. Then, as one of the absolute highlights on the album, “Tunnel Lights” sounds like an IDM version of Billie Holiday, produced by IAMX. The plot further thickens a notch on “Eyes Like Nightshade” which is pure ear candy for the APHEX TWIN fanboys. Track after track, the album digs deeper into the darkest reaches of the human psyche with music that sounds unsettling and soothing simultaneously.
The dark mood of the album had worked its magic by now: with the title of the seventh track being merely “Salt,” I could not help but think of it as salt being rubbed in a wound. It surely helped that the music painted a picture of GOLDFRAPP delivering somewhat occult incantations as if after a three-week binge on hard drugs. Speaking of which, the follow-up track, “Unseen World,” could easily qualify as the electronica soundtrack for a psychotic episode or, given the title, some extremely unsettling schizophrenic hallucinations.
Before the dark, minimalist trip-hop of “Dusk” closes the album on such a lovely, bittersweet note, your heart is crushed once more, with the sorrowful piano hymnal, “Place in the Sun,” a song which would have been epic enough to serve as the closer, as well. Yeah, I know it’s quite early to speculate on the album rankings for the best 2024 has to offer, but I’ll be damned if this endeavor does not fare in the top 10 of many a music journalist. I’m pretty sure that it will be on mine. I mean, I recognize a masterpiece when I hear one. This is a heart-churning masterpiece, hands down. With flashes of vintage trip-hop, industrial, and metal, this new Chelsea Wolfe selection is a tale of a rebirth in process – and like all rebirths, it can be messy and dark, at times; threaded together by her stunning voice, by turns desperate and reassuring, it makes us convinced beyond doubt that there is indeed a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Whispers in the Echo Chamber
- House of Self-Undoing
- Everything Turns Blue
- Tunnel Lights
- The Liminal
- Eyes Like Nightshade
- Unseen World
- Place in the Sun
Chelsea Wolfe – vocals
Ben Chisholm – piano, synths, drum programming
Bryan Tulao – guitars
Jess Gowrie – drums, synths
Loma Vista Recordings