Helen Money, "Atomic"
Alison Chesley, a classically trained cellist, is one of those performers whose collaborations are many and varied, spanning across genres and decades in her long career. Her credits include contributions to over 100 albums1, with styles ranging from post-rock, to metal, to college rock, to new music, to film score. Solo project Helen Money is the culmination of these influences, with cello the principal actor in her experiments with chamber rock, subtle effects to round sharp corners, and heavy riffs to chop the serenity back up again.
The opening track of Atomic, Helen Money‚Äôs 6th release, is aptly called "Midnight," establishing the mood of the entire album squarely inside the witching hour, with all the moodiness of an underground Chicago haunt thick with smoke and regret. Cello is voiced clearly in the forefront in many-layered blossoming daubs. The more sedate of her ideas are reminiscent of her collaboration with The For Carnation, Louisville post-rockers closely associated with Slint. Touching on chamber music but returning time and again to a rock framework, she creates lovely and eerie instrumentals for strings, keys, drums and guitar. The more ferocious tracks are more reminiscent of the blistering hiss and chug of ISIS, with none of the vocals but all of the heaviness of a turpentine bath. Somehow, despite weaving in and out of these heavy and tender modes, she maintains a through line that unifies the album‚Äîa connecting presentation that is both sensual and gothic, leavened with bursts of jagged peaks.
Alison Chesley has been making music for longer than I have been alive, but her substantial output is new to me, and it is a quite welcome discovery. Some of the bands she‚Äôs performed with‚ÄîBroken Social Scene, Rachel‚Äôs, The Sea & Cake‚Äîare my musical love affairs. This release, "Atomic," swept me off my feet during the first 10 seconds, and carried that standard of beauty throughout. It‚Äôs post-rock without falling into the trap of being too derivative, owning its own distinct personality and sound, and drawing you into its cradle and bow. It‚Äôs a record that haunts, at times naked and beseeching, at others flared and screeching. It lingers with the listener like an old hurt, the tangled cello lines echoing into the stillness of your night.
This album is coming at a time when the artist‚Äôs vision is a much needed balm for the anxieties of a world gone topsy turvy. In her own words, "I‚Äôve been thinking a lot about how the earth is our home; the universe; and how fragile this world is and how connected we all are to everything."2 Even as we adjust to the new reality of physical social distancing, our nobelist instincts as human beings suffering a collective crisis do come forward‚Äîto spend time reconnecting virtually with family and friends, to support our fellow community members in need if we can, and to redouble our efforts to see that the music industry we love survives and thrives.