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Friday, December 8, 2017

Chelsea Wolfe: Unknown Rooms


1) Flatlands; 2) The Way We Used To; 3) Spinning Centers; 4) Appalachia; 5) I Died With You; 6) Boyfriend; 7) Our Work Was Good; 8) Hyper Oz; 9) Sunstorm.

Subtitled A Collection Of Acoustic Songs, probably to save herself from unnecessary negative emotions on the part of all the Roadburn-going metalheads, this is a short (less than half an hour long) EP collecting several songs that had mostly been written and recorded over the previous years and spent time circulating in demo form on the Web — this time, however, professionally re-recorded and brought to a certain degree of completion. This is Chelsea Wolfe's sad, tender, and dreamy side, as she comes to you in the spiritual form of your deceased lover and populates your dreams with visions of mournful, ethereal beauty, in whisps and whispers. Consequently, you don't really get to experience the whole potential of this album until you have laid your partner in her grave — a mere pathetic break-up probably won't do as a substitute.

On a less grand scale of experience, I could probably enjoy the album more if the songs were a bit more diverse or a bit less formless — but since it is precisely the point that they should all sound alike and that they should all make a point of their ghostliness rather than their shapeliness, this means that I could never enjoy the album more than I currently do, which is not a lot. This dreamy sound, mostly consisting of slowly, lethargically picked acoustic guitar and multi-tracked «phantom» backing vocals, has not been invented by Chelsea Wolfe and has not been perfected by her. There is not a lot of lyrical or musical depth or complexity, either, and the best thing I can say, once again, is that this is still better than Lana del Rey, because this is a very direct approach, lacking meticulous commercial calculation. Despite the monotonousness, Unknown Rooms fails to irritate — it does not position itself as some sort of grand, contemporary-important statement on love and death, rather as a series of hushed, muted, impressionistic vignettes on the matter that you can take or leave. This humility is almost seductive; if only there was something else!

Unfortunately, for me there have been no moments here that could warrant a strong emotional connection — not that I'd been expecting one, given the near-impossibility of writing a stripped down, minimalistic, deeply emotionally resonant acoustic song in 2012, particularly from the likes of Chelsea Wolfe, but then again, it's not as if she did not have any memorable ballads under her belt: ʽHalfsleeperʼ immediately comes to mind, but perhaps the level of ʽHalfsleeperʼ was considered too tense and aching for this record? Here, the only song that even begins to approach the level of «tense» is the closing ʽSunstormʼ, and only because its melody is a two-chord piano pattern that she bashes out with jarring force and robotic precision, accompanying it with the mantra "I remember everything you said" as if she herself were trying to hammer the "every­thing" in question inside her head. Still does not make me remember the song when it's over.

Ultimately, perhaps, the record's best and most defining moment is at the very beginning, when she sings "I never cared about money and all its friends / I want flatlands / I want simplicity". This sounds honest and convincing, and is sufficient to pardon the lack of interesting and original ideas throughout the album — honestly, makes her quite likeable as a person, I guess. But not all likeable persons can generate magic, and if the likeable person bravely complicates the task by limiting herself to an acoustic guitar and wispy background atmospherics, chances are even smaller. Probably would work fine as background music to re-reading Wuthering Heights, though.

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