Friday, February 08, 2013

Helen Money's "Arriving Angels"

Helen Money is the solo performing alias of Cali-born, Chicago-based cellist Alison Chesley, who holds a Master's in cello performance, played in the '90s band Verbow, and works around the Windy City as a composer and session player. On her new album, Arriving Angels, produced by noted curmudgeon Steve Albini, she's a veritable one-woman stoner rock juggernaut, employing effects and sampling to produce a menacing forest of sound, joined on four tracks by Neurosis/Sleep drummer Jason Roeder.

As I am reminded by all the damn guitar compilations I've been reviewing lately, it's possible to electronically alter the sound of instruments these days to make them sound like almost anything, and Chesley uses this capability to striking effect. On the opening "Rift," you'll guess that the sounds were made by anything but a cello. The instrument's dark and moody natural texture appears on "Beautiful Friends," setting a ruminative tone before Roeder makes his entrance, then blasting away at a hypnotic minimalist drone and introducing pulsing variations. It's astonishing the way a single player can create so much sonic tension.

On "Radio Recorders," Chesley plays a repeated figure with tremolo against Roeder's blast beats, then overlays a monstrous bassline worthy of Boris with skirling dissonance in her upper register. "Midwestern Nights Dream" backs off the intensity for an interval of reflective chamber music that continues with the title track -- until a feelthy fuzztone shatters the mood. Helen Money's music resonates with the stark beauty of alienation. Its creator is a no-fooling virtuoso who channels her gift not to call attention to itself, but rather, to make the sounds breathe.


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