June 02, 2016 at The Chapel in San Francisco.
Sleep paralysis plagues singer/songwriter Chelsea Wolfe, and that strange intersection of the conscious and the unconscious has inadvertently manifested itself within her work. Across the span of her first four albums, there is an underlying tension, a distorted and nebulous territory where dark shadows hover along the edges of the sublime and the graceful. But until now, Wolfe’s trials and tribulations with the boundaries between dreams and reality have only been a subconscious influence on her work. With her fifth album, Abyss, she deliberately confronts those boundaries and crafts a score to that realm she describes as the “hazy afterlife… an inverted thunderstorm… the dark backward… the abyss of time.”
Chelsea Wolfe’s material has always felt intensely private, from the almost voyeuristic bedroom-production aesthetic of her debut album The Grime and the Glow to the stark themes and atmospheres of 2013’s Pain Is Beauty. “Abyss is meant to have the feeling of when you’re dreaming, and you briefly wake up, but then fall back asleep into the same dream, diving quickly into your own subconscious,” says Wolfe. To conjure this in-between world, Wolfe continued her ongoing collaboration with multi-instrumentalist and co-writer Ben Chisholm and drummer Dylan Fujioka, with Ezra Buchla brought on board to play viola and Mike Sullivan (Russian Circles) enlisted to contribute guitar. The ensemble traveled to Dallas, TX to record with producer John Congleton (Swans, St. Vincent). In the back of her mind burned the words of designer Yohji Yamamoto: “Perfection is ugly. Somewhere in the things humans make, I want to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion.” The resulting eleven songs reflect that philosophy as they smolder with human frailty, intimacy, quiet passion, anxiety, and deep longing.
Abyss opens with the disorienting lurch of “Carrion Flowers”, where Wolfe weaves a hypnotic vocal melody over monotonic industrial thuds, much as an Indian raga is constructed around a lone note or swara. On “Iron Moon”, the band pushes for extremes in its loud-quiet-loud strategy, alternating between hushed balladry and gargantuan doom. On “Dragged Out”, glacial-paced fuzz riffs underscore Wolfe’s sultry verses, until a howling wail of distortion dominates the chorus. But there are certainly moments when the brutish elements are reigned in—“Maw” could serve as a lullaby and “Crazy Love” harkens back to the humble acoustic compositions of her Unknown Rooms album. But between them we have “After the Fall”, the centerpiece of the album, where the abrupt tonal shifts, descending chord progressions, and climactic vocals illustrate Wolfe’s fascination with Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung. “I let myself drop,” begins one of Jung’s recollections of his dreams. “I was so struck by that visual: the drop into the abyss of one’s own mind, allowing yourself to feel things you’ve hidden away, bringing them front and center. That became the goal of this album,” says Wolfe. That surrender can be heard in the slowly escalating cacophony of “Survive”, the penultimate square-wave hum and yearning of “Color of Blood”, and the clamorous piano loop and disorienting arrangement of the closing title track.
“Sleep and dream issues have followed me my whole life,” remarks Wolfe as she revisits notes from the writing and recording sessions. In a way, these issues have become a part of Chelsea Wolfe’s identity, for whom the notion of sleep as an escape has been subverted. Abyss captures this dichotomy, this battle between the soothing and the upsetting, and demonstrates why Chelsea Wolfe has become one of the most intriguing songwriters of the decade.
– Brian Cook, 2015
A Dead Forest Index:
Landscapes both seen and felt, real and imagined, lie at the heart of In All That Drifts From Summit Down, the vast debut full-length release from nomadic duo A Dead Forest Index. Comprised of brothers Adam Sherry (vocals/guitar) and Sam Sherry (drums/piano), the group crafts ethereal and intensely intimate compositions that defy trends and labeling, instead shaping an aural experience as organic as it is unpredictable. Forsaking instrumental complexity in favor of richly dense vocals and an otherwise minimal palette, the band evokes heaviness with the atmosphere they create rather than through blunt force. Teaming-up with Sargent House on the heels of a recent European tour supporting labelmate Chelsea Wolfe, A Dead Forest Index are poised to introduce their sound to a global audience in 2016.
A Dead Forest Index was initially the solo project of Adam Sherry, begun in 2008. By 2010, it had evolved into a collaboration, with Sam Sherry supplying percussive depth to his brother’s distinctively hymnal approach to vocals, itself characterized by cyclical harmonies and experiments with drone. Untethered by place (or, for that matter, era), they’ve spent the past few years developing their sound, touring extensively between 2012-2014, and issuing the EPs “Antique” and “Cast of Lines” in the process. The latter was released by Jehnny Beth of Savages’ Pop Noire label, a precursor to the collaborative Savages/A Dead Forest Index composition and performance titled “In What I’m Seeing; the Sun” for the Barbican’s Station to Station Festival in 2015.
Though basing themselves periodically in locales as far-flung as Melbourne and London, the oceanic grandeur of A Dead Forest Index’s songs suggests a spiritual mooring in their homeland of New Zealand. Their influences are rich and untapped: the poetic, archaic ‘deep song’ of Indian and Andalusian origin, Romanian lăutari troupe Taraf de Haidouks, and the allegorical symbolism found in William Blake have all been cited as antecedents. The group have themselves been compared to The Velvet Underground with Nico, Scott Walker, Swans with Jarboe, and Antony and the Johnsons, to name a few.
In All That Drifts From Summit Down, their debut album, is a testimony to the sublime divinity of nature and the cold reality of time’s passage. Unfolding over 13 tracks, the album imagines natural phenomena as poetic metaphor for the human condition, the lyrics evoking stone, cold air, unyielding emptiness and erosion, while the enveloping warmth of Adam Sherry’s layered, choral vocals makes for an intriguing contrast. “Cast of Lines” is a prime example of this, its rapturous “In all our currents / a fog upon the sea at night” mantra accompanied by little more than a strumming guitar. Sam Sherry’s steady rhythms propel some tracks, like “Tide Walks” and “No Paths”. “Ringing Sidereal”, on the other hand, unwinds more slowly, a dark cavern of a song with flickering sparks of percussion emerging only where necessary. Occasionally swells of noise take shape. On “In Greyness the Water”, a slow-building churn buffers the repeating “In… fall… colour” chorus that penetrates through the cacophony like spires through fog. Savages guitarist Gemma Thompson guests on two tracks, providing a wiry undercurrent to the brilliant postpunk stomp of “Myth Retraced”, before fortifying the processional stride of “Sand Verse”. In All That Drifts From Summit Down is a potent, compelling statement, an exercise in restraint and severity whose icy hue only accentuates the warmth at its core.
A Dead Forest Index epitomize the possibilities of the modern age. Weaving threads of disparate influence from around the world into a captivating tapestry, the duo exemplify their own transience, producing mature, wholly inspired work unbound by time or place.