Northern California native Chelsea Wolfe’s sound is best described with broad strokes: elemental, intense, radiant, ancient yet modern, intimate yet expansive, dark and sparkling. Hues of black metal and deep blues inform her ever-evolving electric folk, a warm force that wraps itself around the listener, encouraging uplift, seeking triumph. Her voice similarly haunts and soothes, with words that illuminate life’s darker corners in order to reveal the unlikely truth and beauty hidden within.
In a way, Wolfe is on a journey to the surface of her own music. 2012 found her releasing her first acoustic emanation on Sargent House, a collection of once-orphaned songs given a home. The experience is a secret shared, a side of our heroine rarely seen or heard, and the making was as intimate as it gets: recorded in the woods of Northern California and at Wolfe’s L.A. home, co-produced by her bandmate Ben Chisholm, with players Ezra Buchla (viola), Andrea Calderon (violin) and Daniel Denton (bass).
In 2013, Wolfe will deliver her fourth album, which will expand upon the acoustic record’s themes: the elements and natural disasters, humanity, love, desolation. At the same time, the new full-length will mark a significant change as Wolfe and Chisholm (who makes glitched goth-soul as Revelator) bring more electronic elements into the fold. The album will also feature the other members of Wolfe’s live wrecking crew, guitarist Kevin Dockter and drummer Dylan Fujioka.
Disparate as these two developments are, they perfectly embody Wolfe’s growth as an artist, the inside turning outward, her embarkment on European and U.S. tours providing an apt contrast to her more cloistered childhood. Her rare romanticism began early, but it was always a private affair. At 9, she’d watch her father playing country music and sneak into his studio to record skewed keyboard covers (The NeverEnding Story theme was a favorite) and originals.
Wolfe long lacked the confidence to share her work, but in 2009 she embarked on a three-month stint abroad with a nomadic performance troupe. After performing in cathedrals, basements and old nuclear plants to whoever would listen, she returned home with a new drive. She began toting around an 8-track and recording as the mood hit, eventually editing her findings into 2010′s stunner LP, The Grime & the Glow. Described as both healing and harrowing, enchanting and narcotic, the album established Wolfe as a force on the rise.
Inspired, Wolfe then relocated to Los Angeles and recorded her second album, 2011′s Apokalypsis LP, which found her in an actual studio. The songs captured therein maintained the strikingly visceral elements of her debut. Praise came for the record’s revelatory dirges and cavernous sound, and moreover for Wolfe’s newly showcased songwriting chops. Her onward march through music only seems to deepen the experience. Whether stripped bare or fully backed, Wolfe carries a serious heaviness of sound offset by that ever-present counterweight: transcendence of spirit. – by Chris Martins