The Grime and the Glow


Band: Chelsea Wolfe
Album: The Grime and the Glow
Best song: “Halfsleeper”
Worst song: “Bounce House Demons” is not as good as the version on Ἀποκάλυψις.

I made a very dopey pledge a while ago to never write about any album twice. This, of course, is a ludicrous notion, though it’s one I’ve kept. In doing so, I’ve not done any album twice in a post, despite my desperate want to do so. Most of the time, it’s because I want to revisit an album — feelings and opinions change just as people do — and it’s not as easy to get around that as it is to write again about an artist.

Which is what I’m doing here.

I’ve already written about my favorite album of last year (and of the past many years, probably), Chelsea Wolfe’s Ἀποκάλυψις, so it’s time to take a look at her official record, The Grime and the Glow. Wolfe’s current sensibility is hypnotic and gothic with a sparse use of guitar bordering on the drone-y. All the while, her voice drives the records — and performances, from what I can gather on YouTube.

The Grime and the Glow possesses a low-fi vibe that makes Ἀποκάλυψις seem like a George Martin production. Indeed, a few songs for the record — “Moses” and “Bounce House Demons” — were rerecorded for Ἀποκάλυψις. But, there’s something distinctly wonderful in Wolfe’s proper debut* and something that seems like it’s going to blow the fuck up.

I have an unhealthy love for Wolfe’s music, to the point that I’m almost schoolboy-y. Part of it is the very nature of her persona; both she and her music are mysterious in a world where oversharing is the norm. This is, after all, someone who posed for a photograph looking like a cross between an extra from Last Temptation of Christ and an omen-telling character from Game of Thrones‘ Qarth:


(Photo by WDRKMR, via http://www.chelseawolfe.net/images-2/)

There’s an attractiveness (not sexual, mind you) in that kind of mystery, the lack of outspokeness. Glenn Danzig has it, as I prefer to think of Danzig as something simply birthed from smoke in the late ’70s. I tend to think the same way about Wolfe. Hell, I didn’t even want to think she was a human being, but rather simply a voice and a guitar coming out of my speakers. When asked about what kind of music she listens to — the assumption from the interviewer, I imagine, would involve the words “Black,” “Sabbath,” “doom” and “dark” — in an interview, she simply said “Hank Williams.”

But, again, as we learn more about people, the mystery remains and grows. Wolfe had tweeted about reading Atlas Shrugged (for those who don’t know, I despise Ayn Rand) and it sank my heart (she also talked about her love of Rand here). But, she’s also someone who’s tatted up a fair amount, and all of her iconography on her tours is, well, witchy. So, I tend to hope she’s simply into individualism as some sort of personal mantra and not a political one, but who the hell knows?

(Edit: Turns out, she already talked about this to Redefine Magazine, saying “She really predicted what society and the workplace would become as well. We exist in a world where extraordinary people are oppressed by systems or a shitty boss with a power trip. The worker-drones are afraid to speak up or do something special for fear that they’ll be called out or fired.” Mostly bullshit, but not nuts. I also found out, via another interview, that my favorite song of hers, “Tracks,” is partially inspired by Atlas Shrugged. GUH.)

Or on a lesser intellectual level, Wolfe recently did a little interview with MTV (it still exists, at least on the web) about her personal style. Don’t read the introduction, as it’s written how I believe the world will end, all in hashtags and in-jokes. As though the Juno screenplay was actually as obnoxious as everyone thought it was.

Anyway.

In the piece, Wolfe names off the usual style-y stuff. Shoes, moisturizers, etc. What sucks is that she loves patchouli, probably the single worst scent in the world. As Patton Oswalt so eloquently stated, patchouli smells worse than “dirt that’s been fucked by a hobo.”

The nice thing is that these are tiny little pieces. She’s not really open to these interviewers in a way that I need to know. They’re not things that really put out the entire person out there.

I say this all the time, but it’s really worth going over again. Music, more than a lot of things is so personal and open to interpretation. Wolfe’s aesthetic is very pronounced. It’s measured and manicured, but her songs don’t have a lot of very overt bits. She can explain in interviews a little about her hyper somatic nature and her hermitic tendencies, but it’s more just her being shy.

She says that she’s just now opening up in interviews and becoming comfortable in her own skin, but I’d kind of like that not to happen. I don’t know that “Tracks” is lessened by my knowledge of its inspiration, but it doesn’t add to the experience. I do prefer to think she emerged from a puff of smoke.

Probably my biggest regret in my original piece about the song “Tracks,” one of the best love songs I’ve ever heard. I touched on it a bit in the piece, but that really is a great song. So, it’s worth doing something like that for The Grime and the Glow.

In a way, “Halfsleeper” is a typical Wolfe record. “Halfsleeper” is a song about death, as many of Wolfe’s songs are. It’s a song based around her melodic, breathy voice and a minimalist guitar line. But, somehow, it’s more than that. Like “Tracks,” “Halfsleeper” has enough of a repeatable line structure that makes it instantly memorable. It’s poetic in a very morbid way. The only repeated bit of the song — I guess it’s a chorus? — describes, literally, the aftermath of a car crash.

Til they’re spread across the open road
Til they’re spread across the asphalt on the open road
Til they’re streaming in the wind like cassette tape or jellyfish
Long dark veins and records playing memories

Wolfe described the song in an interview, saying, “It’s sorta supposed to be like a a painting of sorts, like a slow motion , kind of feeling of what it would be like to die in a car accident.” She also talked about how the song reads of memories that are more important than the differences between two people (a romantic couple, in this song). As the lyrics say, “All the things we yell don’t mean a thing/When we’re spinning out of darkened meadow wind.”

The song, by the way of its tempo of subject matter, doesn’t necessarily accomplish that which Wolfe had attempted. I don’t think it does sound like a car crash, but rather a love song of regret and sadness, indeed, the most relatable type of love song. In it, the protagonist is at the end it all (a discussion, an argument, a relationship, life. There’s a real cloud of acceptance to the song that works well for those of us who can relate.

I like funereal music, when done well, be it “The Black Crow” or “Halfsleeper.” I don’t know what that says about me. Probably nothing all that good.

One thing I would like to know, if anyone has any idea, is why Mistake in Parting seems to be roundly ignored by Wolfe. The vocals sound like her, the cover photo looks like her. Why is it not considered her debut album? Why does the music press completely ignore it? Let me know if you have answers. I’m honestly curious. It’s a really good record.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted July 15, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    fun blog, dude! it’s funny because in our doing that chelsea wolfe interview, similar dialogues came up about atlas shrugged / how much she chooses to reveal, etc. i don’t personally have much of an opinion on the matter, but it’s fun to read yours.

  2. Posted July 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    From the sounds of things she simply just doesn’t like her earlier material, and feels somewhat sheepish about it being ‘too singer-songwritery’ (I definitely relate to that…). So I think that’s why she ignores the pre-Grime stuff. Perhaps she feels that she’s finally gearing into her ‘own voice’/sound now, as sees it as having more artistic merit.

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