Chelsea Wolfe – Live at Roadburn Vinyl release
Review by James Hibbert
In 2012 alone Chelsea Wolfe released a collection of acoustic tracks under the title “Unknown Rooms” alongside a digitally released tribute to Rudimentary Peni, a Daytrotter live session and lastly, a recording of her performance at this year’s Roadburn festival, put to wax as a gold coloured LP by Roadburn Records. Busy.
Here we have a set clocking in at roughly 40 minutes and being comprised of songs primarily taken from her 2010 and 2011 studio releases, “The Grime and the Glow” & “?ποκ?λυψις”. Songs differ little from their original renditions aside from in atmosphere and intensity along with some musical additions most clearly exemplified on the performance of “Movie Screen”, featuring an almost Tubular Bells sounding keyboard led introduction intermitted with bursts of heavily distorted guitar and crashing drums (sounding not too dissimilar to Menace Ruine), before shaping into the form of the studio track itself. This approach whereby songs slowly build into shape, creeping from subtle beginnings to a bombastic, almost post-rock crescendo appears frequently throughout the performance, most clearly so in the opening track “Halfsleeper”, however songs such as “Demons” and “Noorus” represent a fleshier and less ethereal sound with a consistent intensity from beginning to end. This expresses an interesting dichotomy of delicacy and force; ghostlike and spectral wanderings contrast with steadier energies and more rhythmically and texturally masculine passages, creating a particular atmosphere unique to Chelsea Wolfe’s take on the singer/songwriter approach to popular music.
Atmosphere is a key ingredient throughout the artist’s relatively varied discography, in fact proving to aesthetically tie releases together, and whilst covers such as her particularly raw and haunting rendition of Burzum‘s “Black Spell of Destruction” (initially recorded for uploading to YouTube with little expectation for response, later recognised by the artist as being what she believes resulted in her invitation to play Roadburn!) differ drastically from their original, they prove atmospherically consistent and true to both the genre from which the song is taken, and to Chelsea Wolfe’s discography itself. Indeed, the artist has a particular knack for making songs her own, a knack displayed clearly in her cover of Nick Cave‘s “I Let Love In” and the aforementioned compilation of Rudimentary Peni “covers” which actually take very little from each original song, only making use of the lyrics as a foundation for songwriting.
This heritage of covering the music of others does not only exemplify versatility and ability to craft authentic atmosphere, but also diversity of influence and inspiration. Songs such as “Moses” and “Pale on Pale”, the closing two of the performance, present a sound almost reminiscent of latter day Swans or even Earth, with twangy and expansive guitar-play driven by cavernous, echoing drums; indeed this hollow and desolate sound runs right through the performance, with sporadic and minimalistic musicianship being a central theme. Again, atmosphere is primary and is constructed with finesse.
Despite this I remain somewhat torn on Chelsea Wolfe, often finding her studio releases a grueling listen which do little to retain attention and offer qualities, despite clear standout songs, which do not match my tastes; the live setting however does much to heighten and enrich the listening experience, infusing Chelsea Wolfe’s sound with an energy and vigor not heard in the studio along with a spirit appealing even to those to whom her sound does not inspire. With this, Live at Roadburn 2012 proves to be a rewarding listen and further, the soon to be announced 2013 release should be waited on with bated breath as Chelsea Wolfe proves with each offering to further refine and perfect her aesthetic and sound.
Available to buy here: http://burningworldrecords.com/artist/chelsea-wolfe