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Digging beneath the mess of the world to find the beauty underneath is perhaps the most consistent theme in Chelsea Wolfe’s expansive discography—a theme that ties together her ceaseless explorations in unorthodox textures, haunting melodies, and mining the grandeur embedded within ugliness and pain. With her sixth official album Hiss Spun, Wolfe adopts Miller’s quest to become empowered by embracing the mess of the self, to control the tumult of the soul in hopes of reigning in the chaos of the world around us. “I wanted to write some sort of escapist music; songs that were just about being in your body, and getting free,” Wolfe says of the album before extrapolating on the broader scope of her new collection of songs. “You’re just bombarded with constant bad news, people getting fucked over and killed for shitty reasons or for no reason at all, and it seems like the world has been in tears for months, and then you remember it’s been fucked for a long time, it’s been fucked since the beginning. It’s overwhelming and I have to write about it.”
Hiss Spun was recorded by Kurt Ballou in Salem, Massachusetts at the tail end of winter 2017 against a backdrop of deathly quiet snow-blanketed streets and the hissing radiators of warm interiors. While past albums operated on the intimacy of stripped-down folk music (The Grime and the Glow, Unknown Rooms), or the throbbing pulse of supplemental electronics (Pain Is Beauty, Abyss), Wolfe’s latest offering wrings its exquisiteness out of a palette of groaning bass, pounding drums, and crunching distortion. It’s an album that inadvertently drew part of its aura from the cold white of the New England winter, though the flesh-and-bone of the material was culled from upheavals in Wolfe’s personal life, and coming to terms with years of vulnerability, anger, self-destruction, and dark family history.
Aside from adding low-end heft with gratuitous slabs of fuzz bass, longtime collaborator Ben Chisholm contributed harrowing swaths of sound collages from sources surrounding the artist and her band in recent years—the rumble of street construction at a tour stop in Prague, the howl of a coyote outside Wolfe’s rural house in California, the scrape of machinery on the floor of a warehouse at a down-and-out friend’s workplace. Music is rendered out of dissonance—bomb blasts from the Enola Gay, the shriek of primates, the fluttering pages of a Walt Whitman book are manipulated and seamlessly integrated into the feral and forlorn songs of Hiss Spun.
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