One sign that an artist is in the realm of greatness is the ability to leave the listener wanting more. Chelsea Wolfe has done that to me twice this year. I aim for her lips and I get her cheek. I hug the air. I zig when I should zag. Now you see her, now you don’t. She’s a darkness, just out of reach. So I look upon you with the squinting eyes of suspicion, Chelsea Wolfe. You sure know how to string a guy along. You’re like nailing rain to a tree. Temptress!
On October 16, Wolfe releases Unknown Rooms: A Collection Of Acoustic Songs, which is…well, exactly that. These are intimate, subdued songs, found wandering the internet in search of their proper resting place. Homeless songs gathering under their bridge, in which to sleep. I’ve listened to it religiously, but there are only nine songs on the CD and one of them is a grand total of 32 seconds long. The whole thing clocks in at less than 25 minutes. I feel like the victim of a schoolyard drug dealer: the first one’s free, then you’re hooked. I want more. DAMN YOUR WILY WAYS, CHELSEA WOLFE. There’s a monkey on my back and he will GET WHAT HE WANTS.
So I frantically scour the internet for every microscopic kernel of information, music, and TMZ gossip I can find. I discover her first 2 CDs, The Grime And The Glow (2010) and Apokalypsis (2011). Astounding, both of them. They continue to hold my iPod hostage.
(Seriously, where have I been? Why is this new to me? I don’t live under a rock. I don’t sit in my hotel room, surrounded by tissue boxes, and watch movies all day long. I…know things. God, I hate myself for being so oblivious.)
So anyway, that monkey is starting to itch real bad. Daddy needs a fix. And what happens? I get my shit together long enough to realize Wolfe had released Live At Roadburn in September. That’s two releases within a month. Serendipity voila!! Just in time to avoid the DTs. She loves me, she really loves me.
So at this point, I will pay good hard American cash to hear Chelsea Wolfe read her grocery list. For an MP3 of her singing ‘Amazing Grace’, I will gift you with my firstborn. A photo of Chelsea Wolfe posing seductively over an L.A. freeway? My screensaver.
Wolfe is (understatement of the year) an extraordinarily gifted singer. Her voice is ghostly and haunting. You can almost touch it, but…not…quite. It jumps out of the speakers, grabs you by the throat, and whispers to you. It’s romantic and threatening, intimate and distant. It’s a commanding voice and an elusive one. It’s like touching dry ice and getting third-degree burns.
Unknown Rooms’ best track (‘Flatlands’) is achingly beautiful. It’s just acoustic guitar, strings, and that incredible voice. Nothing else is needed…yet eight more equally riveting songs follow it. In ‘Sunstorm’, she repeats “I remember…” like a mantra, accompanied by only a piano and synth. In ‘I Died With You’, she’s a momentary ghostly apparition. She harmonizes with herself, all dark folk and Appalachian doom. She echoes and floats, never overstaying her welcome. In song after song, she makes her presence known, sends shivers down your spine, then disappears. Everything sounds like an ancient secret. I won’t tell if you won’t. Marked confidential.
This music doesn’t reveal itself immediately. It makes you work for it. You keep wiping the windshield, but your breath keeps fogging it back up. So you keep wiping. And breathing. And wiping. And brea—…I’m itching again. Call me, Chelsea. I need to hear your grocery list.
Michael Franklin is the Media & Reserves Specialist at Western Kentucky University’s Visual & Performing Arts Library (VPAL). Michael is also a professional musician and sound engineer. He is currently recording his 6th CD with his best friends Screenlast 6.0 and Audacity Sourceforge. He thinks Iggy Pop is the greatest singer in the history of music. If you disagree, you’re wrong. You better ask somebody.
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