• The Way We Used To
• Spinning Centers
• I Died With You
• Our Work Was Good
• Hyper Oz
• Virginia Woolf Underwater
• Gold Chelsea Wolfe describes her latest album as one of stray songs – melodies that fit poorly, chants that stumbled on the way to the recording studio: in Unknown Rooms she collects her lost children, giving them names and voices as she coaxes out the second side of the hyphen in her “electro-folk” persona, filling her songs with guitar chords, echoes of call-and-response and the atmospheric strings of EMA’s former Gowns bandmate Ezra Buchla (‘Appalachia’, ‘Spinning Centers’) and Andrea Calderón (‘Flatlands’).
The result is a far cry from last year’s enthralling Apokalypsis. Here, the cold, metallic whine that accompanies most of the songs almost seems designed not to enhance but to distract, setting Wolfe’s tales to the droning thrum and whir of an engine – an industry of analogue noise. ‘Flatlands’ opens the record with an aching, pure desire to escape to the yellow, open plains of the prairie: “I want flatlands / I never cared about money and all its friends.” It’s a startling departure from the more synthesised tones we’ve cherished in the past, yet there is complexity and malcontent even in the simpler life she yearns for.
And so, true to form, Wolfe’s songwriting weaves a narrative of body counts and emotional decay. ‘Our Work Was Good’ moves tragically from a regular wild night in the mines to the death of a brother – “Is it over? / Did it happen? / I knew him well.” And with every passing comes the funeral and the waking torment of those left behind; the widow or orphan’s cry in ‘I Died With You’, a brilliantly minimal piece of only three lines, is wracked with unearthly pain. Wolfe also finds darkness in the shuttered existence of ‘Appalachia’: “It was the way we always knew that we never had a clue / that we never had a chance like the others in the dance”.
Unknown Rooms is a well-crafted exploration – to borrow one of her own titles – of ‘Hyper Oz’, an acidic Kansas and a wild, overgrown dreamland. Across these nine tracks, Chelsea Wolfe romanticises and revolts against the frontier, dirties her voice with gritty coals and washes it clean with tears of mourning. Silence is simple and serene, it seems, but also stifling – and for this reason she sings.