What I want is to open up. I want to know what’s inside me. I want everybody to open up. I’m like an imbecile with a can opener in his hand, wondering where to begin—to open up the earth. I know that underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I’m sure of it.” – Henry Miller
Digging beneath the mess of the world to find the beauty underneath is perhaps the most consistent theme in Chelsea Wolfe’s expansive discography—a theme that ties together her ceaseless explorations in unorthodox textures, haunting melodies, and mining the grandeur embedded within ugliness and pain. With her sixth official album Hiss Spun, Wolfe adopts Miller’s quest to become empowered by embracing the mess of the self, to control the tumult of the soul in hopes of reigning in the chaos of the world around us. “I wanted to write some sort of escapist music; songs that were just about being in your body, and getting free,” Wolfe says of the album before extrapolating on the broader scope of her new collection of songs. “You’re just bombarded with constant bad news, people getting fucked over and killed for shitty reasons or for no reason at all, and it seems like the world has been in tears for months, and then you remember it’s been fucked for a long time, it’s been fucked since the beginning. It’s overwhelming and I have to write about it.”
Hiss Spun was recorded by Kurt Ballou in Salem, Massachusetts at the tail end of winter 2017 against a backdrop of deathly quiet snow-blanketed streets and the hissing radiators of warm interiors. While past albums operated on the intimacy of stripped-down folk music (The Grime and the Glow, Unknown Rooms), or the throbbing pulse of supplemental electronics (Pain Is Beauty, Abyss), Wolfe’s latest offering wrings its exquisiteness out of a palette of groaning bass, pounding drums, and crunching distortion. It’s an album that inadvertently drew part of its aura from the cold white of the New England winter, though the flesh-and-bone of the material was culled from upheavals in Wolfe’s personal life, and coming to terms with years of vulnerability, anger, self-destruction, and dark family history. Aside from adding low-end heft with gratuitous slabs of fuzz bass, longtime collaborator Ben Chisholm contributed harrowing swaths of sound collages from sources surrounding the artist and her band in recent years—the rumble of street construction at a tour stop in Prague, the howl of a coyote outside Wolfe’s rural house in California, the scrape of machinery on the floor of a warehouse at a down-and-out friend’s workplace. Music is rendered out of dissonance—bomb blasts from the Enola Gay, the shriek of primates, the fluttering pages of a Walt Whitman book are manipulated and seamlessly integrated into the feral and forlorn songs of Hiss Spun.
Opening will be Russian Circles. At the end of 2014, Chicago trio Russian Circles celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their first show. A decade is a long time for any band to persevere, let alone a band that mines the relatively unmarketable niche of protracted instrumental dirges. But whereas many bands on the louder end of the rock-based instrumental world are content to work within the confines of the crescendos and washed-out timbres laid out by their predecessors, Russian Circles persistently expand their creative boundaries by working with a wider swath of sounds and structures. In many ways, their last album Memorial was a fitting cap to that first decade; it was an elegy to the past, a token of remembrance to the aural explorations of the band’s formative years. It encompassed the many facets of the band’s catalog: harrowing gloom, cinematic majesty, primitive bludgeonings, bittersweet dexterity, and morose minimalism.
With their sixth album Guidance, Russian Circles carry on in their quest to conjure multi-dimensional dramatic instrumental narratives and to scout out new textures from their respective instruments. Songs aren’t constructed out of highbrow concepts; they’re forged out of gut instinct and base emotional response. Nor was the band—as is often the case with artists later in their career—interested in testing their fans’ patience or securing a new broader audience with a radical reinvention. Instead, Russian Circles use Guidance to continue examining the polarity of quiet and loud, complexity and simplicity, ugliness and beauty. Every Russian Circles album has had its share of new sonic vistas, and Guidance finds the band still searching out new sounds while continuing to play to the collective strengths of guitarist Mike Sullivan, drummer Dave Turncrantz, and bassist Brian Cook. Starting with the meditative restraint of album opener “Asa”, Guidance sets off on a path of metallic savagery (“Vorel”, “Calla”), arpeggio tectonics (“Mota”), mercurial anthems (“Afrika”), somber segues (“Overboard”), and seismic Americana noir (“Lisboa”). With the help of engineer/co-producer Kurt Ballou and his God City Studio, Russian Circles were able to capture this broad tonal palette and wide array of emotional motifs into a cohesive journey through the tumultuous corners of human existence.