Chelsea Wolfe has never been predictable. Even so, it’s hard to tell what course she has charted from the first vapors of the new release She Reaches Out to She Reaches Out to She. On “Whispers in the Echo Chamber”, gaseous electronics and simmering guitars build gradually behind Wolfe’s voice, a thing of ominous intimacy at once gentle and howling. As soon as she makes her mission clear (“Become my own fantasy / Twist the old self into poetry”), something bursts, tension and release, sending the piece deep into an atmosphere of fumes and glitches in which Wolfe becomes the eye of a sonic storm, the locus around which each moment swirls into being either to dissipate or explode. The track ends with a frenzy of guitar (Bryan Tulao) and drums (Jess Gowrie) that come to a sudden stop as Wolfe whispers a final “done” to end the song.
So, it begins with a jarring dance of shadows and crystalline facets in jagged assemblage. It’s a pitch-perfect introduction to the album’s artfully mismatched aesthetics, powered by decades of combined production experience between Wolfe, Tulao, Gowrie, multi-instrumentalist Ben Chisholm, and producers Dave Sitek and Shawn Everett, whose expansive catalog (he’s worked with SZA, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Slowdive, and numerous others) makes for a distinct array of textures over the course of the record. We may be in Wolfe’s echo chamber (the songs here chronicle her sobriety journey and breakup experiences), but its landscape is collaborative in a way that sets it apart from anything else in her catalog.
It’s a risky space for Wolfe to navigate. Tracks like “Tunnel Lights” and “The Liminal” are built on thin, pop-ready beats, smooth surfaces on which Wolfe’s voice flows like honey. Touches of doom are relatively few and far between, putting Wolfe’s deeply personal lyrics clearly at the forefront. She Reaches Out to She Reaches Out to She, though, is one in constant shift: the agitated synths of “Eyes Like Nightshade” evoke classic darkwave; “Salt” is a sinuous slice of electropop; ballad “Place in the Sun” radiates a warmth rare in Wolfe’s catalog as all her titular reaching culminates in an inspirational finding (“I am safe in this body / Safe in this heart / I have made it this far / To live this life”). The final track and lead single, “Dusk”, melts together darkness and sweetness in a melancholy earworm with an especially earnest sentiment (“Can you contain my love / Can you hold me together / ‘Cause I will run through the fire / To get to you”).
Where most of Chelsea Wolfe’s works open up internal and external voids, She Reaches Out to She Reaches Out to She builds on a different scale. Wolfe’s vision remains expansive, but she dwells here in the details, putting together a collage that is more real for its flights of fancy, for its uneven patchwork of styles. This album is an untangling, vulnerable, and sometimes messy, admirable as it lets in the light and takes us deeper into Wolfe’s creative interiority. The forms this takes are often surprising, especially with such an abundance of overt electronics, and it’s easy to imagine resistance from fans looking for yet another non-stop Chelsea Wolfe hurricane.
The purpose of this record, though, is not to be more of the same. Wolfe is as uncompromising a poet as she has ever been on She Reaches Out to She Reaches Out to She, and while her disparate choices of canvas give us a bumpy ride, it’s one worth taking in good faith.