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Chelsea Wolfe’s latest album, She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She, is a rebirth in process. It’s about how such a moment connects to our past, our present, and our future. It’s a powerfully cathartic statement about cutting ties, as well as an important reminder that healing is cyclical and circular, and not a simple linear process. As Wolfe explains, “It’s a record about the past self reaching out to the present self reaching out to the future self to summon change, growth, and guidance. It’s a story of setting yourself free from situations and patterns that are holding you back, in order to become self-empowered. It’s an invitation to step into your authenticity.”
On She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She, there are references to shedding exoskeletons, to excommunication, and to permanent fissures. The liminal, the in-between, and the unseen are recurring characters. As Wolfe puts it, “like the dark moon, that void space can feel unpredictable and looming, but it also holds so much potential, mystery, and excitement.” Dense and minimal, raw and opulent, intimate and expansive, the production also breaks apart then rebuilds—samples of the band are cut and pasted back together, heavy guitars dissolve into trip-hop breaks; the vocal delivery is both hushed and soaring. As Wolfe sings in the blistering opener, “Whispers In The Echo Chamber,” she’s “twisting the old self into poetry.” (The same track finds her “bathing in the blood of who [she] used to be.”)
There’s an intimate, ASMR-like quality to the vocals on this album, delicate and detailed. Nothing feels straightforward, left to chance, or as expected. Wolfe said of She Reaches Out: “This album demanded to be lived.” Throughout, these vocals hold specific keys to meaning, and feel sculptural.
The initial songwriting was kept to a core of longtime collaborators, as Wolfe worked closely with multi-instrumentalist Ben Chisholm, along with drummer Jess Gowrie and guitarist Bryan Tulao. The songs were written and workshopped remotely from the spring of 2020 through the end of 2021 by Wolfe and these collaborators. In early 2022, she brought the work she had collected to producer and TV On The Radio co-founder Dave Sitek, who worked with the band to deconstruct the compositions, pushing the songs into uncharted waters where they were then transformed and reborn. The pieces found their final focus at the mixing console of Shawn Everett (Slowdive, SZA, Alvvays, the Killers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs); Everett and Wolfe worked to extract the fine details from the vocals, blending them into the lush sonic production world. Everett mixed in a sense of urgency and excitement, while still maintaining the delicate sections of its production.
This leap into the unknown shouldn’t be surprising: Wolfe has never been afraid to experiment, traverse genre, or invent her own hybrids. If you return to her 2010 debut, The Grime and the Glow, amongst the room-tone atmospherics, punk drums, dark melody, and Wolfe’s commanding voice you can already see the prototypical skeleton, a visionary scratchpad, for what would follow. An early approach to She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She’s pulsing electronics and break beats are there in 2013’s Pain Is Beauty. 2015’s Abyss established a space between folk and industrial and noise rock and metal. 2017’s Hiss Spun burrowed deeper into heaviness. Wolfe returned to her earlier, folkier beginnings on 2019’s Birth of Violence, which was recorded at home in Northern California, and links back to 2012’s acoustic collection of songs, Unknown Rooms.
Opener “Whispers in the Echo Chamber,” ties together a number of elements Wolfe has explored in the past, rolling in dynamic waves between minimal synth electronic and heavy, full-band moments, and refracted through a hall of mirrors. The explosive “House of Self-Undoing,” a song about Wolfe getting sober after the touring for her last album concluded, feels like electronica meets post-hardcore. Wolfe explains, “When you become sober after years of numbing out, you feel, deeply: the moments of joy are euphoric, and the moments of pain are more visceral. But it’s like a call to adventure, facing life fully present is exciting when you’ve spent half your life only half-present.” Wolfe describes the song as an underworld journey – this journey takes many forms.
The slow-burn “Everything Turns Blue” is an anthem about “finding yourself again after a long era of being part of something toxic,” she says. ”Making a split with someone after 10 years, 20 years, 30 years—there’s going to be some high highs and low lows as you begin to process it all.” The production here is deep, smoky, cavernous, and glitchy. Wolfe’s voice is raw, honest, and carries a weight with it, the feeling of burnout and also healing. “I’ve been living without you here/ and it’s alright/ I’d been looking for a way out a long time/ I’ve been living without you here and I can fight/ I’ve been living softly my whole life,” she sings. On this track, Wolfe asks another question central to She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She: “What do I have to do to heal you out of me?”
Closer “Dusk,” which opens smoky and sensual and ends as a towering psychedelic guitar shredder, sees an empire burning and dissipating, and a dusk before a new dawn. It’s a sentiment echoed throughout She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She. On “Tunnel Lights,” a song that has a late-nite Twin Peaks feel until it cracks open into a miasmic swirl of analog and electric waves, is about, as Wolfe describes, “actually living instead of just ‘getting by,’ about waking up to the fact that you’ve been languishing in the dark and it’s time to start taking steps towards the lights that’ll guide you out of the tunnel-cave.”
At its core, She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She is realizing the way forward is through, contemplating what must be cut and left behind, while also figuring out what lies ahead and what there is to discover once you get there. Wolfe guides us on that quest, asking us these questions as she asks herself the same. As the title of the album hints, She Reaches Out to She Reaches Out to She is a reminder to look within, to remember that all the power you need resides there. Reach out to the selves, reach out to one other. Reach to the ancient and to the end of all things, to remember that the only time we truly have is now.