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Chelsea Wolfe: The Grime and The Glow (2010)

April 17, 2013

Chelsea Wolfe grime and glow artwork

Roll: 6-11-1
Album: Chelsea Wolfe, The Grime and The Glow

Chelsea Wolfe‘s (from what I can tell) second album, The Grime and The Glowwas recorded on a Tascam 488 4-track cassette recorder. That’s the second thing mentioned in the liner notes. I’m not sure if that’s meant as an apology for the lo-fi edge to the recordings or bragging about their relatively hi-fi sheen. Either way I always find it slightly puzzling when artists make a point of mentioning this. It always seems a bit douchebaggy. Especially in this case since I actually suspect it’s simply a hipsterish boast that the sessions were not recorded on a Mac. Well, good for you guys. Keepin’ it real.

But then, despite it being a full 30 effing years since Bruce Springsteen recorded Nebraska on a TEAC Portastudio, it’s an obvious gimmick. And you can’t blame anyone in this day and age for grasping at any possible straw to help sell a record.

My issue with this gimmick is that the proof of the pudding is supposed to be in the eating so what does it matter how the pudding was prepared? If your pudding tastes like shit, I’m not going to suddenly think it tastes delicious because you tell me it was cooked over a campfire in an old bean tin instead of on the gas-range of a five-star restaurant’s kitchen in a copper sauce pan. I’m only going to be impressed with your bean tin story if you’ve just fed me the best pudding I’ve ever tasted. I’m certainly not anti lo-fi—maybe a hint of pork, molasses and rust is exactly what a pudding needs—but unless the EP you recorded on an old answering machine sounds like ELO, I just don’t care.

Anyway, what matters with Chelsea Wolfe’s album is: how good is the eating?

The Grime and The Glow is a deceptively dense casserole with intertwined layers of angular no-wave theatrics and organic art-house poetics. Witchy overtones provide a dark uneasiness that lingers on the tongue. Beneath a skeletal acid-folk base, you detect a definite bouquet of oily industrial rust and the murky stench of ritual sacrifices in a bog. Wolfe’s voice vacillates between coquettishly deranged and prophetically belligerent. A delectable, complex array of flavours and textures. The only sour notes come in the form of the dentist-drill on a chalkboard shriek of “Deep Talks” and “The Whys” (though perhaps those with a taste for boiling acid in a tumbler of glass shards and broken needles would appreciate the acquired taste of such tracks). The dessert course of “Sirenum Scopuli” followed by “Widow” is a deliciously creepy set of lullabies and the perfect finish.

Food metaphors aside, for supposedly being recorded on one machine there is actually a pretty drastic range of sound quality between tracks. So much so that one has to wonder, if  “Advice and Vices” can sound so great, why couldn’t “Deep Talks” have been recorded a little better? Not that the latter track should have been cleaned up entirely, but it really sounds like it was recorded on a Tascam 488. Worse than anything Sentridoh ever released. Heck, shriller and more abrasive even than anything Merzbow ever released. Actually, it kind of sounds like it was recorded on a 488 and then made to sound a lot worse on a computer after the fact. If so… Why?

Well, that’s some stuff I wouldn’t have spent several minutes thinking about just now if I hadn’t read the liner notes.

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