Live Review: Helen Money in Brooklyn, 03.24.13

Posted in Reviews on March 25th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

It had been my original and stated intent to catch Los Angeles-based cellist Alison Chesley — who has performed under the moniker Helen Money since releasing a self-titled album under it in 2007 — at the St. Vitus bar on Friday night. So firm was I in this intent that I stayed at my office until 9PM so I could leave right from it to get into Brooklyn for the show in time to catch her with minimal traffic hindrance. I’d picked up my car from the mechanic earlier in the day and was all good to go.

All good to go, that is, until I started said vehicle and found it had no headlights — a fact I’d failed to notice since it was still light out when I drove it from the mechanic’s to my office. Some wire accidentally bumped, and there you go. This was enough for me to miss the show. I called The Patient Mrs., who in fact offered to come drop off another car — because she’s wonderful — but the timing wouldn’t have worked anyway.

I had a solid 15 to 20 minutes of feeling bad for myself while I waited for her to pick me up at my office before I remembered that Helen Money had a second show booked for Sunday night at The Acheron, a venue I’ve generally avoided since I and someone on their behalf engaged in a bit of needless mutual dickery early in 2011 (though I was there later that year), and suddenly it seemed far less dramatic. I’d still be able to see Helen Money while she was in town, still be able to pick up a copy of her latest album, Arriving Angels (review here), and though it was a Sunday night and I had to work Monday morning, stubbornness won out.

So off I went. My car was still at the mechanic’s, but The Patient Mrs. was kind enough to lend me hers for the evening and I trucked across Manhattan and into Brooklyn for the show; a bill which Chesley was sharing with San Diego doom-dub machinist Author & Punisher and Philly metallers A Life Once Lost. Nothing against either, both are well established in what they do — and I can’t even think of the name A Life Once Lost without having the hook of their “The Hunter” run through my head — but it was Helen Money I was going to see, so I made sure to get there early.

Familiarly, I was a little too early, but after standing around for about an hour, Chesley took her cello out of a case with a sticker for her old outfit Verbow on it and took the stage in front of the other bands’ backlined equipment, standing with pedal boards in front and to the side of her. She was alone — Arriving Angels features outside contributors, something of a departure — but more than held her ground as a solo artist. She’s hardly the first to construct a larger-than-one-person sound using loops and effects, and the drama a cello can create without accompaniment has been proven time and again, but Helen Money is nonetheless a singular, individual project, as much sonically as practically. She may or may not be moving in the direction of working on fuller arrangements for studio material going forward, but for what it is now, for Helen Money to work, it almost had to just be her.

She mostly kept to Arriving Angels material for the setlist, with each of the eight tracks accounted for save the closer, “Runout,” and a good portion of them presented in the same order as on the album. Helen Money‘s propensity to play heavier and louder parts off softer ambience showed itself throughout as she bowed or plucked the cello strings, a kind of frantic energy taking hold at points that was suitably electric for her distorted tone. Some of the most effective moments of Arriving Angels arrive when she makes that sudden jab, and using sampled drums — it’s Neurosis/Sleep drummer Jason Roeder contributing the loops to the studio versions, and presumably his samples live as well — “Radio Recorders” and “Beautiful Friends” were all the more visceral in the live setting of The Acheron, which was mostly held in attentive check throughout, save for some conversation in back and spillover noise from The Anchored Inn next door.

Two or three times, Chesley spoke off-mic from the stage about a song before she played it. I was standing in back by then, so couldn’t really make out what she was saying, but her point got across anyway once the next piece began. Dipping back to the self-titled, she touched on the shorter “Hendrix” before rounding out with the march of “Schrapnel” and the stark, sometimes furious Arriving Angels title cut. It wasn’t quite 10PM when she finished and said a humble goodnight, and I was soon enough on the road back to Jersey, the looming week and temptation to make it back before midnight overwhelming all other impulses. Plus, you know, I had to give my wife’s car back.

Extra pics after the jump.

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Helen Money, Arriving Angels: Friends among the Shrapnel

Posted in Reviews on February 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Los Angeles-based cellist Alison Chesley has been releasing albums under the Helen Money moniker since 2007, and in the interim, became something of a staple in Chicago’s formidable heavy underground. Contributing to Yakuza and Russian Circles (among many others) while also following up her self-titled debut with 2009’s excellent In Tune (review here), Chesley returns with her Steve Albini-produced third album, Arriving Angels. The 40-minute mostly-solo full-length also marks her Profound Lore debut (which makes Yakuza among her many labelmates), and features guest contributions from Neurosis/Sleep drummer Jason Roeder on the tracks “Beautiful Friends,” “Radio Recorders,” “Shrapnel” and the closer “Runout,” but though the circumstances of the release has changed and the drums and appearances from jazz pianist Dennis Luxion on “Beautiful Friends” and “Runout” note a shift in approach toward a less singular, cello-based musicality, there’s a lot about Arriving Angels that remains consistent with Chesley’s prior work in/as Helen Money, most notably the evocative atmospherics she creates using the cello and a range of loops and effects. She can be alternately minimalist, as on the Pat Metheny cover “Midwestern Nights Dream” that begins the second half of the tracklist or build layer upon layer to mount a consuming and dynamic swell as on “Upsetter,” filling out the starts and stops of one progression with the higher-register movements of another. All this results in an album varied and progressive, but also working (obviously) around a central musical thematic, that is, the cello itself. There are no vocals, no guitar or bass, no keys other than Luxion’s piano – which admittedly plays a significant role in the closer – and even Roeder’s drums on “Beautiful Friends,” “Radio Recorders” and “Runout” are looped, so Arriving Angels is still very much Chesley’s record, a showcase for what she does with the cello, opening with a full-toned volume swell of drone and foreboding echoes of distortion on “Rift,” which serves as much as an introduction to the album as a track in its own right, patiently developing and then abandoning a build to bring on layers of rhythmic chugging (yes, a cello can chug) that act as a bed for biting leads and complex interplay between the cello and itself.

The song turns vaguely psychedelic with backwards swirls and a devolution back into the droning noise from whence it came, and in its course, it establishes much of Chesley’s modus for the rest of the LP, “Upsetter” opening with creepy repetitions before bursting into jarring avant rhythm – you could call it aptly-titled, since whether it’s the threat of the atmosphere in the first cycle or the unwillingness of the second to let you get ahold of it, something here is probably going to upset you – running through the course twice before the three-minute mark, at which point a higher swell draws the song to what feels like a close, only to have the initial repetition resume as an outro that serves just as much as an introduction to “Beautiful Friends,” which sets clean and distorted lines against each other almost immediately – Chesley showing a bit of Neurosis influence in the distorted march – only to set a start-stop chug to what feels like an extended tom fill from Roeder, both stopping, then starting again. Luxion’s piano comes on as the drummer takes to his ride cymbal, but it’s Chesley that ultimately emerges, first in the right channel, then the left, to draw the cut to its conclusion with a part that, if she took another eight or nine minutes to ride it out to a massive tide of post-doom heaviness with a full band behind her, bass, guitar, drums and keys, I don’t think I’d complain. That, however, isn’t how Arriving Angels runs its course, and “Radio Recorders” begins with sustained notes and drums from Roeder that up the intensity even from what he was doing on the prior cut. I don’t know if that’s a loop (Michael Friedman is credited with programming loops on “Beautiful Friends,” “Radio Recorders” and “Runout”), or if Roeder is playing that part live, but either way, it sounds like a good way to blow out a shoulder. The drums come and go amid effected cello churn and swirls, and massive-sounding distorted line soon makes a bed for a lead that’s melancholic almost to the point of being doomed, the song lulling the listener into a false sense of security only to have Roeder’s drums pick up again and themselves layer to a faded finish.

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New Helen Money Album, Arriving Angels, Due Out Feb. 5 on Profound Lore

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 7th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Still thoroughly under-appreciated after issuing two excellent albums — 2009′s In Tune (review here) and a self-titled debut in 2007 — through her own Cellobird Records, Chicago cellist Helen Money (née Alison Chesley) will make her debut on Profound Lore in February with the forthcoming Arriving AngelsChesley (interview here) has contributed to records by Yakuza and Russian Circles and is a great fit for the label, as she manages to craft with equal ease dense atmospheres or open spaces with just the single instrument.

The new album was recorded, as you can see in the headline, but Steve Albini and drummer Jason Roeder of Neurosis and Sleep also makes an appearance. Here’s the full story off the PR wire:

Steve Albini Recorded And Mixed New Helen Money Album, Arriving Angels

Out On Profound Lore Records February 5th, 2013

The new Helen Money album, Arriving Angels, recorded and mixed by Steve Albini, a long time fan and supporter, will be released on Profound Lore Records February 5th, 2013. National tour dates will be announced soon. Helen Money just completed All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP) ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ shows in Camber Sands, England (curated by Shellac).

Arriving Angels, was recorded and mixed in May and September 2012 by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio and features drummer Jason Roeder (Neurosis, Sleep). Cellist/composer Alison Chesley, a.k.a. Helen Money, merges her classical training with a lifelong affinity for punk rock and a taste for heavy metal. In addition to her own material Chesley has also performed and/or directed string arrangements for artists like Anthrax (Worship Music), Russian Circles (Geneva), Broken Social Scene (Forgiveness Rock Record) and current labelmates, Yakuza. For her previous album, In Tune, she worked with Greg Norman (Pelican, Russian Circles, Neurosis), Sanford Parker (Pelican, Chris Connelly, Yakuza, Buried at Sea) and experimental, avant-garde label, Table of the Elements, who released the album in 2009.

“Arriving Angels means a lot to me for so many reasons,” Chesley explains. “It’s a culmination of two years of continuing to explore ideas with my instrument and effects – expressing a lot of changes in my life. Being able to work with Steve — someone I’ve toured with repeatedly over the past few years, and who was able to help me fully realize what I wanted to achieve with my music on this record — was very gratifying.”

The eight tracks on Arriving Angels are: 1. “Rift,” 2. “Upsetter,” 3. “Beautiful Friends,” 4. “Radio Recorders,” 5. “Midwestern Nights Dream (Metheny),” 6. “Arriving Angels,” 7. “Shrapnel” and 8. “Runout.” The music is performed by Alison Chesley on cello. In addition Jason Roeder (Neurosis, Sleep) plays drums on tracks 3, 4, 7 and 8; Dennis Luxion plays piano on tracks 3 and 8; Michael Friedman programmed drum loops for tracks 3, 4, and 8. Tour dates are pending and Chesley will perform most shows solo, but hopes to do some dates with a pianist and/or drummer.

Asked to cite her influences Chesley’s list of artists include The Who, Bob Mould, Steve Reich, Glenn Branca, Roger Williams (Mission of Burma), Neurosis, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, adding “anything dark, powerful, beautiful, with lots of heart.” Chicago Tribune wrote “Alison Chesley brings her classical training on cello into realms occupied by heavy metal extremists and guitar deities.” The Onion opines “Using guitar effects pedals she crafts songs that veer from ethereal to downright ominous.”

In 2011 Helen Money was chosen by Portishead to perform at the ATP ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ and toured with Joe Lally (FUGAZI) as both support and performing in his band nightly. In addition to supporting Shellac on tour in 2012, Helen Money has shared bills with Earth, Nina Nastasia, The Bad Plus, KTL and Hunn Huur Tu. With her previous band, Verbow, she opened for Frank Black, Bob Mould, Counting Crows, Live, Morrissey, Liz Phair and Brad with Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam. Verbow toured nationally for seven years.

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