Search This Blog

Friday, October 27, 2017

Chelsea Wolfe: The Grime And The Glow


1) Advice & Vices; 2) Cousins Of The Antichrist; 3) Moses; 4) Deep Talks; 5) Fang; 6) Benjamin; 7) The Whys; 8) Noorus; 9) Halfsleeper; 10) Bounce House Demons; 11) Widow; 12*) Gene Wilder; 13*) Move; 14*) You Are My Sunshine.

There is one simple reason why Chelsea Wolfe's first-and-forgotten album is less irritating than her officially-first-and-remembered album. By the time she got around to recording The Grime And The Glow and releasing it on an indie label, she was already committed to Art — as in, «go into this and try to make a difference» rather than simply do what everybody else is doing. And in the fervor and ardor of this commitment, she decided that the «difference» would consist of making a dark, atmospheric, melancholic record in a lo-fi setting.

I have personally expressed my feelings about lo-fi in many reviews, so just a brief reiteration: as far as I'm concerned, there is one reason and one reason only to produce in lo-fi — if you really don't have the money to produce in hi-fi. In 2010, good studio sound might be a problem in Zimbabwe, perhaps, but in New York or California, this kind of sound is a travesty. Granted, Chelsea's songwriting skills here are not (yet) fully developed, and she may have needed a little something special to mask the simplicity and repetitiveness of the melodies; but if you take a mediocre song and make it sound like total crap, where is this really going to get you?

As long as the songs themselves are fully arranged and feature contributions from additional musicians, things aren't too bad: ʽAdvice & Vicesʼ, despite all the distracting white noise in the background, has a nice weaving thing between the bass and the wailing lead guitar going on, with the overall atmosphere reminiscent of the early Eighties' Goth scene. But as soon as we are left on our own with just Chelsea and her guitar, on the dashingly titled ʽCousins Of The Antichristʼ (why «cousins?» who's the brother?), it all goes down — the strum is generic, the vocals creak and croak with the aim of making her sound like a disembodied spirit, but instead of contrasting with the backing vocals, they all blend in to create a caterwauling effect. At the very least, she is not straining her voice to make it sound particularly freaky; but the song itself is not good from the start, and placing the singer at the bottom of a damp well does nothing to improve it.

On the slow, leaden, and seemingly desperate ʽMosesʼ ("Moses, can you help me carry the bur­den?" — why «Moses»? is it because «Jesus» would sound too banal?), she drives a simple blues-rock riff into the ground, assisting it with an equally minimalistic organ part; the desired effect is probably to make you experience visions of the protagonist slowly and painfully making her way through some underground tunnel, and again, under different circumstances I can see how it just might work, but here, it does not (spoiler for the long road ahead: the version on her next album would be a vast improvement).

But if you want to hear the most representative track on the album, I suppose you have to turn your attention to ʽDeep Talksʼ — three minutes of overdriven, border-on-the-industrial guitar clanging accompanied by a vocalize effort that Yoko Ono (no doubt, one of the influences) would have appreciated. No doubt, some people will like this, or, at least, will want to spend a few hours of their time explaining why this is Art and why this Art is so particularly relevant for the year 2010. Unfortunately, this is more of a «gesture» than an «epiphany», and since we already live in a post-Sonic Youth universe, it is not unless we restart our life with a totally clean slate that I can free some space for this on my own mindshelves.

Sometimes it borders on funny, for instance, when on ʽNoorusʼ her minimalism drives her on to borrow the riff from AC/DC's ʽDirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheapʼ (with a few modifications, perhaps, but the song does have an AC/DC flavor to it — except, of course, the Young brothers would never stoop to such cruddy lows of production). Sometimes it is almost pretty — ʽHalfsleeperʼ has all the makings of an enchanting dark folk ballad, but it desperately needs something instead of that background hiss to make it work. And I would love to join her in her little demon-exorci­sing exercise (ʽBounce House Demonsʼ), but... well, if you want to make something in the style of Steve Albini, why not go directly to the source? I'm sure Steve would find it difficult to say no to a girl with bounce house demons all around her.

Bottomline: as far as I'm concerned, this is a rather glaring false start to a career, and what makes matters worse is that this, unlike Mistake In Parting, is a pretentious album — it tries to con­vince us that the artist is actually trying to communicate with the spirits or something, but it uses fairly simple, predictable, obsolete, and boring means to do this. Thumbs down; I would recom­mend skipping this altogether, since it honestly does not even have a lot of historical interest (well, in the sense that it is, perhaps, way too early to get genuinely interested in the long and winding artistic biography of Chelsea Wolfe).


  1. Not sure if you're considering 'Live at Roadburn' part of the discography (it's essential, in my opinion), but it contains a far superior version of Halfsleeper.

  2. I just read your review, it's the first time I've heard of this artist, I'm going to listen seriously, by the way you could make reviews of laura marling albums, I promise you'll love it, I'd tell you to start with your first record, It's called Alas, I Can not Swim.