Review: Chelsea Wolfe – She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She
The past half-decade has been both productive and typically versatile from Chelsea Wolfe. 2019’s Birth Of Violence eschewed much of the sonically abrasive sounds of prior records Abyss and Hiss Spun, returning in spirit to the styles of her earlier acoustic material, now imbued with subtle Americana sensibilities. It was an album that had as much of the sound of Hank Williams III‘s Ghost To A Ghost / Gutter Town as it did his grandfather’s work. This was followed by a pair of collaborations: one with Converge, 2021’s Bloodmoon: I and another with longtime film composer Tyler Bates on the score to Ti West‘s 2022 film X. That Chelsea Wolfe’s new record, She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She, is another change in direction is unsurprising, but it’s in the album’s influence and delivery that it’s most notable.
On a surface listen, Wolfe seems to return to the sounds of 2013’s Pain Is Beauty, with both albums seeing her utilizing the trappings of nocturnal darkwave throughout the record. But whereas Pain Is Beauty was much more reliant on consistent, thumping tremolo synth work—specifically on a track like “The Warden”—and a more distant, transient production that dominated the album, here Wolfe is pulling from a completely different set of influences, and in doing so sounds much more singular in execution. In an interview with The Quietus, Wolfe mentions early influence from acts like Tricky and Adore-era Smashing Pumpkins as well as Sunn O))), which is an apt comparison to draw from; if anything defines She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She it’s this intersection of the more relaxed, atmospheric composition of trip-hop paired with overwhelming and heavy production, where arpeggiated synths crackle on the edge of the mix, and snares hit like gunshots.
This combination—the feeling of something more melodic, more peaceful, almost more mellow, breaking through this dense and dark sheen of mechanical scraping and distorted popping—is thematically resonant, as Wolfe has spoken about She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She as an album of rebirth and healing. Having recently turned 40, Wolfe comments in a recent Revolver interview:
“I very much feel like I’m in the rebirth process, and I’m actively taking steps to move to a more aligned place in my life and career.”
This same interview saw Wolfe comment on her experiences with hypnosis therapy, which allowed her to engage in a discussion with her past and present;
“I’ve had actual experiences during these sessions where I (encountered) either a younger or an older version of myself” … “I’m interested in the ways that you can reach back to your past self to offer guidance, or how your future self can reach back to your current self.”
This perspective informs much of She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She, this conversation between old and new, past and present identity depicted in its music and its theme.
“Whispering Into The Echoes” evokes this immediately, specifically the intersection of the lyrics “Twist the old self into poetry”, which is followed by a half-rest, itself then giving way to the explosive chorus. This is repeated once again later, with the more explicit line “That shit does not define me anymore.”
It’s important to note another aspect of the album, specifically the context of its release. She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She is Wolfe’s first full-length on Loma Vista Records, and notably not Sargent House. Following allegations from Mylet‘s Henry Kohen, Sargent House founder Cathy Pellow stepped down from her position. That Wolfe and others are no longer connected to Sargent House informs the chrysalis state that She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She embodies.
The more explicit and electronic influence found on “Tunnel Lights”, alongside its more mellow, melodic sensibilities, brings to mind an electrified rendition of some of Ecstacy Of St. Theresa‘s material. Conversely, “House Of Self-Undoing”‘s falsetto glides effortlessly atop relentless breakbeats but ultimately sounds more underwritten than the rest of the track-list.
“Unseen World” is particularly incendiary, and illustrates the explosive, raw energy of the album’s second half. Even “Place In The Sun”—initially a more somber piano ballad—sounds like it’s a track wrestling with and holding back something massive just out of sight, a track whose gentle moments bely an unresolved tension in its composition.
“Dusk”, which was released as a single in late 2023, has a boldness and immediacy to it not common in a lot of Wolfe’s more pensive work. The uncertainty of the opening click of distortion giving way to a melodic progression that rises and falls—accented by these distant choral elements—evokes the sense of something deliberate and considered coming from the ashes of incidental noise and directionless life. Not just the best track on the record, but by every metric my favorite track of the year so far.
She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She is an album whose lethargic and more considered pace may alienate those more familiar with Wolfe’s recent and more immediate work. In the totality of Wolfe’s catalogue, it’s a record that both reflects her past material while refusing to wallow in self-pastiche. And as a record in its own right? It’s cathartic in a way not many records are.