There’s something about Chelsea. Something strange, sinister and utterly beguiling, something that makes you easily envisage her singing a dark ode at the end scenes in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks bar room. It’s a place where her haunting tones would fit right in but it was for many the apocalyptic Fear Of The Walking Dead where we first encountered her urging the dead on. I admit I came to the party quite late only really finding myself caught in the myriad atmospheres of last album Abyss (2015), a place I have lingered in for more time than is probably healthy, swaddled in its diaphanous charms. Naturally when new album Hiss Spun arrived, one taking inspiration from the works of Henry Miller; self-described “escapist music” seething with inner-turmoil and emotions I was quick to similarly indulge myself.
There’s little in the way of gentleness as the heavy tar like granite of ‘Spun’ weaves its web and captures the unwary like a spider to its trap. The siren vocals mould around a bedrock of throbbing bass and doom-like textures courtesy of collaborators Ben Chisolm and Troy Van Leeuwen (from QOTSA). There is some sort of witchery about the siren call as the magic sways within the chilly beat, perhaps recording in Salem Massachusetts invoked some sort of inner spirit as what sounds like a saxophone moodily broods in the background. Moods and emotions are as changeable as the weather as these 12 tracks unfold. There’s always a sense of danger about things even when Chelsea invokes her gentlest elfin tones reverting back to the warm cocoon of innocence and childhood seemingly. At other times she strikes as strident and indignant but despite any unease about both the music and her voice she always manages to draw you in, hook line and sinker. ‘Vex’ proffers a hint of masculinity courtesy of the backing clamour of Aaron Turner of Isis bellowing away like he has been trapped and wounded in the spiders lair. It’s an interesting yet brief counterpoint and one that has you in no illusion over who rules this domain. It’s as though he could be a praying mantis, there for one brief purpose and then death.
The music twists and turns and intrigues throughout, setting the mood through songs like ‘The Calling’ providing a bleak and maudlin accompaniment to the vocals, drums slowly rolling, guitar twanging and then all rising up and biting in with shrill cadence and slow pulsating tones into a crescendo. For me the album really hits its stride midway with the gorgeous melody and trembling bass of ‘Particle Flux’ a song to take to the tomb with you if ever I have heard one. Then there’s ‘Twin Faun’ where it’s all mellow, vocally like a chanteuse in aforementioned Lynchian void and a knife is suddenly plunged in and musical murder is spilled out to run bloody and wounded. Later comes ‘Static Hands’ which takes me right back in time to ‘Join Hands’ era Siouxsie And The Banshees with its primitive cast and post punk gaze. It’s utterly bleak and gorgeous in equal measures.
I guess this is an album that everyone is going to find their own particular place to dwell within, some of it might at first not sit comfortably but it was probably never meant to, some of it will remain in the memory long after it has finished but one thing is guaranteed, it will be an emotional rollercoaster of a listen that is impossible to shrug off. Yes there’s definitely something about Chelsea and if up till now you have avoided her charms and traumas, now is a good time to immerse yourself in them but be prepared to drown!
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)