Music

Chelsea Wolfe: Hiss Spun

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Wolfe's fifth studio album continues to aggressively pursue metal and industrial music, making for an enrapturing listen all the way through.


Chelsea Wolfe

Hiss Spun

Label: Sargent House
US Release Date: 2017-09-22
UK Release Date: 2017-09-22
Amazon
iTunes

I first encountered Chelsea Wolfe through 2011's Apokalypsis. At the time, I was consumed by what I saw as something of a goth-pop renaissance in indie music, represented by the cloaked likes of TR/ST, Austra, Zola Jesus, and Cold Cave. Though Wolfe then operated more in the realm of doom-folk than the electropop acts at the forefront of this early 2010s trend, her music nonetheless suggested some tantalizing possibilities.

Still, while Apokalypsis offered plenty in the way of dark, densely atmospheric songs, it was hard to dismiss a nagging skepticism about the substance of the project. The album cover itself, depicting Wolfe in pupil-less rapture, neatly summed up a concern that perhaps her music was a little too forced, a little too willing to embrace cheesy occult darkness for its own sake, as though darkness were its very own genre. It was a solid listen, but it seemed hard to imagine Wolfe still making compelling music in, say, 2017.

Fast forward to the present, though, and it turns out Wolfe has only gotten better with time. 2013's Pain Is Beauty, in particular, was a leap forward for her career, sacrificing nothing in imposing doom while sinking yet deeper into nuanced songcraft. Around this time, Wolfe's music began getting a bit heavier -- and it later grew heavier still with 2015's Abyss -- adding a few electronic accents and industrial beats that made the album as convincing as it was lofty and melodramatic.

Hiss Spun, Wolfe's fifth studio album, continues to aggressively pursue metal and industrial music, and it makes for an enrapturing listen all the way through. "Spun" opens the set with big, lurching guitar, all blunt objects and dull pain filling the air with discordant noise. But it is only when Wolfe's cooing, serpentine voice incants the titular word that everything really congeals. The track is the perfect way to introduce an album with such unseen, murky depths, wholly unnerving in their obscurity.

"16 Psyche" and "Vex" appropriately follow suit with their textbook metal riffs, howling choruses, and even a brief foray into all-out demonic vocals at the end of the latter cut. Yet Hiss Spun has more tricks up its sleeve than these first three (all great) tracks might suggest. "Particle Flux", perhaps the album's best song of all, pulls back the overt aggression in favor of a subtler dread and tension, fueled more by industrial noise than metal. The same applies to the mechanical backbone of "Offering", which also features a surprisingly elegant chord progression faintly evoking Echo & the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" in a way that will grab you by the ankles and pull you right back into the warped world of Donnie Darko.

Indeed, Hiss Spun is packed with small surprises like these that grab you by the shoulders and reorient you, blindly, to consider its nightmare world from a different angle. The only moments where the album begins to drag are the two six-minute numbers: the quiet-loud patterns of "Twin Fawn" feel tired and unnecessary, and "The Culling" comes off as plodding compared to the more concentrated, potent material found elsewhere. Still, these moments are few, and their transgressions only minor.

Right before the misshapen, unearthly drone of "Scrape" sends us off for good, there is "Two Spirit", the album's penultimate track which recalls the somber folk of Apokalypsis and other earlier works like Unknown Rooms. Wolfe has grown tremendously over the intervening half-decade, and the juxtaposition is poignant. "Two Spirit" proves for good that Wolfe is capable of painting her emotional worlds with delicate brushwork as readily as with broad strokes. The shadows, as well as the sparse pinpricks of light that populate Hiss Spun suggest an uncanny landscape, one filled with strange nightmares regarding you from a distance. Which is to say the album has, incontrovertibly this time, real depth and mystery.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.