Having been a big nerd for Helen Money?s last album, 2007?s Helen Money, I was excited to see that Chicago-based cellist Alison Chesley (ex-Verbow), who for now is the only member of the band Helen Money (no relation to Eddie) was issuing a follow-up. With a release through avant garde label Table of the Elements/Radium, In Tune finds Chesley and her cello — which is the only instrument present throughout — covering The Minutemen and making short work of expectations in general. That seems to be what she does.
In her effort, she?s aided by a Sanford Parker mix and an effects board that would make guitarists salivate. Right away on ?MF,? Chesley brings two sides of her playing style together to create an explorative artistic nuance. She toys with structure throughout In Tune, on the second and title track blending acoustic, un-altered cello meeting with distorted riffing (yes, a cello can riff) in looped madness like something Bernard–Hermann-gone-evil-psychedelic-scientist might prescribe. It is an exercise in contradiction. There are no vocals, no drums, no bass or guitar, and yet Chesley harnesses a rock disposition naturally. Her contributions to the likes of Mono and Russian Circles place her well into the realms of the heavy alternative, and the atmospheres of ?Untilted? and brooding later cut ?Too Heavy? speak of a focus on evocative musical bleakness.
Experimental cello black metal? Yeah, probably not, but it?s a thought. Fits in that genre about as easily as any other.
On the Minutemen cover, ?Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing,? Chesley uses the cello for both percussive and melodic expression and is completely successful. It?s a punk song and it sounds like one. Its relative brevity at 1:46 serves to break up the longer compositions surrounding — most of Chesley?s songs stick in the four to six minute range — and balanced against the insistent, longing movements of ?You are Beautiful,? which themselves follow the minimalist loneliness of ?Sagrada,? it comes on as a welcome surprise and a certain album highlight.
With 6:45 closer ?Everything I am Thinking? as the most expansive track, In Tune ends having managed to completely hold the attention — indeed the album is more satisfying the deeper you listen — and enact a range of sounds from the cello that I for one never would have thought could be achieved. With studio layering done at Steve Albini?s Electrical Audio (the record was produced by Greg Norman), Chesley brings forth a sound full and satisfying on nearly every level. I?m not sure how many of her there are on ?Everything I am Thinking,? but it works and I?d be into seeing it done live. I don?t know of anyone out there doing what she does, and whether it?s in the context of Helen Money or in the form of her guest spots for other bands, Chesley?s work is not to be missed.Chicago, Helen Money, Radium