Chelsea Wolfe has had quite a varied career over the past decade and a half, as while her core sound has often been a mixture of dark folk, gothic rock, and darkwave, each album has emphasized different elements. Where other singer/songwriters have fallen into the trap of releasing very similar sounding material from one album to the next, with Chelsea Wolfe you were never quite sure what each one would bring. Sometimes you’d be met with dark and dreary singer/songwriter-oriented tracks that had a more stripped-down songs, but then there are albums like Hiss Spun which moved towards a doom and metal-oriented approach. This year’s She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She shifts the sound even further, incorporating a significant amount of industrial rock and trip hop with equal emphasis on softer soundscapes and booming peaks that up the noise level. It’s the type of album that has immediate hooks as well as details that don’t sink in until many listens later, showcasing Chelsea Wolfe’s ability to write great music no matter where she goes stylistically.
She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She starts off with a bang, as opener “Whispers in the Echo Chamber” moves seamlessly between softer, moodier instrumentation and peaks where noisier electronics twist and turn. It utilizes a similar back and forth as Nine Inch Nails circa The Downward Spiral or The Fragile, letting the electronics move from sparser, dark melodies over to harsher, noisier arrangements that explode out of your speakers. Hints of industrial and industrial rock aren’t necessarily new for Chelsea Wolfe, but they serve as the foundation for many of these songs and give the material a very different tone from some of her past work. There’s also a lot of variation in tempo, as tracks like “House of Self-Undoing” opt for a brisk pace while “Everything Turns Blue” and “Tunnel Lights” slow things down significantly. “Tunnel Lights” is easily my favorite song on the first half, as it utilizes booming trip hop electronic beats, sparser piano, and layers of industrial riffs to build from a smokey jazz club aesthetic into a sweeping peak that washes over you. The second half of She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She is a bit more subdued by comparison and takes a little bit more time to sink in, as “Salt” and “Place in the Sun” emphasize sparser instrumentation and subtle details that don’t immediately jump out at you. “Dusk” proves to be an effective closer though, with its dark yet almost playful sounding lead melody standing out on first listen. Chelsea Wolfe has really blurred the lines between gothic, industrial, folk, and everything in between, and while there are certain passages that are very close to Nine Inch Nails or Portishead, there are plenty of elements that give this material an identity of its own.
One of the most interesting aspects of She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She is the way the vocals match the same back and forth as the instrumentation. Chelsea Wolfe spends just as much time with soft, whispered singing and spoken word as she does on verses where her voice soars over the recording. The performance comes across like the perfect balance of fragility and power, and you’ll likely find that some of the subdued sections stand out in your memory just as much as the louder ones. Songs like “Whispers in the Echo Chamber” even go for some bursts of distorted, harsher vocals, which naturally build upon some of the intense moments Chelsea Wolfe showcased on the collaboration with Converge a few years ago. There are just as many details to discover to the vocal work as the instrumentation, and things move from a wistful and dreamlike feel over to an eerier and tense one depending on the song.
Chelsea Wolfe’s latest album covers new ground while still capturing the dark and haunting atmosphere of her past work, giving listeners material that they can get lost in. The emphasis on industrial and trip hop gives the songs warm and inviting moments alongside harsher, jagged ones, and the hooks are up there with some of the best in her discography. It does take the second half a bit longer to sink in, and a handful of moments still haven’t fully sunk in for me, but these are minor nitpicks in an otherwise stunning effort. She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She is available from Loma Vista Recordings.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg