Chelsea Wolfe Builds a Labyrinth of Power, Hope and Despair on She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She
The California musician’s latest effort represents the cycles we are all doomed to in life, whether from our lineage, our un-kickable habits, or our inherent nature.Music Reviews Chelsea Wolfe
Chelsea Wolfe has always had an insatiable taste for darkness. For more than 15 years, she has been the supreme of her musical coven, carving out her place as one of her generation’s boldest and most eclectic artists. Elusive like the raven, Wolfe effortlessly glides between neofolk, blues, doom and alt-metal throughout her discography. Regardless of genre, she often finds herself in the lyrical abyss, wading through the void with a special delicacy that comforts more than it frightens. She finds herself in a similar space on her most ambitious work to date, She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She.
The California-born musician began creating her seventh record after beginning her sobriety journey and leaving a draining relationship. Sobriety tends to place you directly in the belly of the most ghastly beast, and Wolfe captures across She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She. With clear eyes and a full heart, Wolfe brings us into the depths of her mind while continuing to maintain the kind of arms-length narrative through cryptic lyricism we’ve come to appreciate in her work. Even still, I feel more connected to her than ever. Wolfe teamed up with longtime collaborators drummer Jess Gowrie, guitarist Bryan Tulao, and multi-instrumentalist Ben Chisholm, as well as working producer Dave Sitek for the first time. She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She represents the cycles we are all doomed to in life, whether from our lineage, our un-kickable habits, or our inherent nature.
This theme of rebirth mirrors the album’s story as much as Chelsea Wolfe’s own musical journey. She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She perfectly blends her back catalog, reflecting on her cyclical life journey throughout and reviving the best genre influences from her past efforts. This cherry-picked combination finds her occupying an inky swell of electro-pop with flourishes of her heavier works—Hiss Spun and Abyss. Each track exists as an individual grave—a memento mori of Wolfe’s past let go through the music she makes. You might be trapped in the graveyard, but the memories remain buried, only allowing you to reflect on the changes you’ve made. As industrial as it is spiritual, Wolfe’s particular brand of trip-hop finds the perfect blend between the carnal and the mystical.
Wolfe’s return to her solo work bursts open with the brutal industrial grit of “Whispers In The Echo Chamber”—a stark track that lands a world away from the neo-folk of her last album, Birth Of Violence. Wolfe whispers in your ear like a ghost, “Bathing in the blood of who I used to be,” detailing the first sacrifice of reclaiming her true self. The guttural breakdown of “Whispers In The Echo Chamber” mimics primal fear; it scares and delights at the same time. “I’ve shed a thousand skins since then,” Wolfe muses, submerging you into her new body of work with a hushed confession.
She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She keeps the pace up with “House Of Self-Undoing,” a trip-hop rollercoaster of Lovecraftian frights. “I’m well-demoned,” the 40-year-old tells us between explosions of scorching drums and gooey electronic breakdowns. Chelsea Wolfe’s poetic prowess seeps through in the chorus on the line “joy thief: this human heart,” dissecting a pain that only the deepest desires can evoke. The record takes a deep breath and returns to a resting rate with “Everything Turns Blue,” a corrosive feat of electronica that serves as a hypnotic seduction into the perils and pleasures of darkness—enchanting you with her siren song, Wolfe sings, “To smoke, to dance, to fly / To breathe into the night / It falls and everything turns blue / To fuck, to feel the same in the end.”
“Tunnel Lights” chugs along with machinery-laden beats, transporting you to a state of limbo in the space where you decide whether or not it’s time to make a change before building to an anxious release in the final seconds of the song. It’s the silent title track of the album, holding space for the thematic defining verse, “If you deny death, you deny life / Let it suffer, let it shine / What must be severed, left behind? / What is there yet to find?” Wolfe explained that She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She is about life cycles and how healing isn’t a linear journey, and this track is an acute portrayal of how we find pieces of our healed self along the journey.
Much of the album’s first half does the heavy lifting, leaving a place for the subdued nature of “The Liminal” and “Place In The Sun” to have a slow exhale. This is not to say these tracks are light in their content. If anything, “The Liminal” is a piercing, haunted track about getting lost in the space between a relationship—a place we’ve all been. “Nothing dies, but nothing thrives,” Wolfe sings about the nothingness during a love’s slow creep toward death. “Place In The Sun” likewise gives the spotlight to her rich vibrato, as she aches over the pain of letting go of her vices to become a more authentic version of herself. Her voice soars as she reassures herself, “I am safe in this body / Safe in this heart / I have made it this far / To live this life.”
“Eyes Like Nightshade” and “Unseen World” lean into ritualistic beats and lyricism at their core. Wolfe has discussed her use of witchcraft and spirituality many times, and it is a constant in the musician’s work. Both tracks are grounded by their primal foreboding drumbeats and spellbinding melody. The bells punctuating the beat in “Eyes Like Nightshade” paint an image of a coven circling a fire to perform a primordial ritual; “Unseen World” creates a magical aura with the chanting of the lines “Ever-turning wheel / Binds our hands together / Wed the shadows to the light / As the pendulum swings to the tide.” It’s a verse so enchanting it could have easily been pulled from an ancient grimoire—arriving like a perfect blend of the olden horrors of the occult and the techno-grim of the darkwave beats only Wolfe and Sitek can craft.
The woozy opening of “Salt” ushers in a substance-induced haze of dizziness; the slow, crawling beat mimics the sludge of a night out. I’ve never felt a song capture the vertigo effect so accurately before, as the deep vortex of the soundscape in “Salt” is industrial and kaleidoscopic. The path to rebirth ends with “Dusk,”the album’s centerpiece that finds Wolfe burning down the empire of her own being to start anew—for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. She tracks this demise through the story of doomed lovers: “I would give you my life / One sin leads to another / And I would go through the fire / To get to you,” Wolfe professes over the shred of psychedelic guitars. Whether or not she reaches salvation is unclear, but the journey to get there is as harrowing as it is heartening.
She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She finds Chelsea Wolfe at her most creative while reviving her particular, audacious and revered brand of dark storytelling. Every piece of the record finds a way to tie into the themes at its core while still pushing Wolfe’s own sound forward in earnest. Without her intoxicating vocal prowess, the nuance of torment laced in each line would be lost—and she holds an extraordinary dynamic power in the space between hope and despair. There’s no mistaking that Wolfe’s subconscious is a labyrinth we are all trying to map a path through, but listeners will be happy getting stuck in the shadowy corners for now.
Read our recent profile of Chelsea Wolfe here.
Olivia Abercrombie is Paste‘s Associate Music Editor, reporting from Austin, Texas. To hear her chat more about her favorite music, gush about old horror films, or rant about Survivor, you can follow her on Twitter @o_abercrombie.