Quarterly Review: Sumac, Dunsmuir, Monkey3, Oak, Lightsabres, Helen Money, Dali’s Llama, Suns of Thyme, Fungal Abyss, Wicked Gypsy

Posted in Reviews on October 3rd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

the-obelisk-fall-2016-quarterly-review

This is always a kind of nervewracking moment, sitting here in my chair as I do every couple months and introducing the next Quarterly Review. Between now and Friday, somehow, some way, I’ll post 50 reviews in batches of 10 per day. It will cover more ground than, frankly, I yet know, and by the time it’s done it’s going to feel (at least to me) like way more than a week has passed, but hell, at this point I’ve done this enough times to be reasonably confident I can get through it without suffering a major collapse either of heart or brain. I’ve taken steps beforehand to make it easier on myself and listened to a lot, a lot, a lot of music in preparation, so there’s nothing left to do but dive in and actually kick this this thing off. So let’s do that.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Sumac, What One Becomes

sumac-what-one-becomes

With their second album, What One Becomes (on Thrill Jockey), post-metal trio Sumac move forward from what their 2015 debut, The Deal (review here), established as their crushing and atmospheric modus. Starting with a wash of blown-out noise in “Image of Control,” the collective of guitarist/vocalist Aaron Turner (ex-Isis), bassist Brian Cook (Russian Circles) and Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) eventually settle into a barrage of chug and inhuman lumber over the course of the five-track/58-minute progression, testing tolerance on the 17-minute march “Blackout” and tapping into a satisfying moment of melody in centerpiece “Clutch of Oblivion” that, by the time it arrives, feels a bit like a life raft. There are stretches that come across as part collections, but the whole seems to be geared toward overwhelming, consuming and devastating, and ultimately What One Becomes accomplishes all of those things and more besides, finishing closer “Will to Reach” with the sense they could easily keep going. I believe it.

Sumac on Thee Facebooks

Thrill Jockey Records

 

Dunsmuir, Dunsmuir

dunsmuir-dunsmuir

Prior to making their full-length debut, Dunsmuir issued a series of 7” singles, so if you picked up any of that, the straightforward pulse running through the 10-track self-titled will probably be familiar. Likewise if you’d previously caught wind of The Company Band, the supergroup in which vocalist Neil Fallon (also Clutch), guitarist Dave Bone and bassist Brad Davis (also Fu Manchu) previously joined forces. Here they’re joined by drummer Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, etc.), and the material is suitably metallic in its aftertaste, but while Fallon’s presence is irrepressible and it’s the songwriting itself that shines through in cuts like “Our Only Master” and “…And Madness,” both barnburner riffs in classic metal fashion, where the later “Church of the Tooth” draws back the pace to add sway leading into the mid-paced closing duo “The Gate” and “Crawling Chaos.” Not many surprises, but with the ingredients given, knowing what you’re getting isn’t anything to complain about.

Dunsmuir on Thee Facebooks

Dunsmuir webstore

 

Monkey3, Astra Symmetry

monkey3-astra-symmetry

Across a span of 12 tracks and 72 minutes, Swiss heavy progressives Monkey3 unfurl the massive scope of Astra Symmetry, their fifth album and the follow-up to 2013’s The 5th Sun. It is an immediately immersive listening experience and does not become any less so as it plays out, the generally-instrumental four-piece frontloading early songs like “Abyss,” “Moon” and the nodding, synthed-out “The Water Bearer” with vocals and backing that with “Dead Planet’s Eyes” on the second LP for good measure. Delving into Eastern-style melodicism gives Astra Symmetry a contemplative air, but Monkey3’s heavy psychedelia has always provided a free-flowing vibe, and as “Astrea,” “Arch,” “The Guardian” and “Realms of Lights” roll through ambient drones toward the album’s smoothly delivered apex, that remains very much the case. Taken as a whole, Astra Symmetry is a significant journey, but satisfying in that traveling atmosphere and in the hypnosis it elicits along the way.

Monkey3 on Thee Facebooks

Napalm Records

 

Oak, Oak II

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Big progressive step from London four-piece Oak on their second self-released EP, Oak II. They follow last year’s self-titled (review here) with four more tracks that build on the burl established last time out but immediately show more stylistic command, vocalist Andy “Valiant” Wisbey emerging as a significant frontman presence and the band behind him – guitarist/engineer Kevin Germain, bassist Scott Masson and drummer Clinton Ritchie – finding more breadth, be it in a nod to djent riffing in “Mirage” or more melodic post-Steak desert rock in “Against the Rain.” In addition, “A Bridge too Far” showcases a patience of approach that the first EP simply didn’t have, and that makes its build even more satisfying as it hits its peak and goes quiet into the stonerly swing of “Smoke,” which ends Oak II with due fuzz and some social commentary to go with. Sounds like more than a year’s growth at work, but I’ll take it.

Oak on Thee Facebooks

Oak on Bandcamp

 

Lightsabres, Hibernation

lightsabres-hibernation

One word for Swedish one-man outfit Lightsabres? How about “underrated?” Since the 2013 Demons EP (review here), it has been nearly impossible to keep a handle on where John Strömshed (also Tunga Moln) might go on any given song, and his latest offering, the full-length Hibernation (on HeviSike with a tape out on Medusa Crush) works much the same, rolling out a melodic mellowness on the opening title-track before topping off-time chug with garage vocals on the subsequent “Endless Summer.” Elsewhere, “Throw it all Away” marries swallow-you-in-tone riffing with a surprisingly emotionally resonant lead, and “Blood on the Snow” offers a downtrodden vision of grunge-blues like what might’ve happened if Danzig had never gone commercial. It’s all over the place, as was 2014’s Spitting Blood (review here) and 2015’s Beheaded, but tied together through a wintry theme, and anyway, variety is the norm for Lightsabres, whose reach seems only to grow broader with each passing year.

Lightsabres on Thee Facebooks

HeviSike Records website

 

Helen Money, Become Zero

helen-money-become-zero

Knowing the context of Helen Money’s Become Zero having been written by cellist Alison Chesley following losing both her parents, and knowing that songs like the 10-minute “Radiate” and the effects-less “Blood and Bone” (which features pianist Rachel Grimes) deal directly with that loss, only makes it more powerful, but even without that information, the sense of melancholy and loneliness is right there to be heard. Chesley, who released the last Helen Money album, Arriving Angels (review here), in 2013, once again brings in drummer Jason Roeder (Sleep, Neurosis) to contribute, and his work on the title-track and the later churn of “Leviathan” make both standouts, but whether it’s the empty spaces of “Vanished Star” or the ambient wash of “Radiate” – I don’t even know how a cello makes that sound – the emotional force driving the music is ultimately what ties it together as a single work of poignant, deeply resonant beauty.

Helen Money on Thee Facebooks

Helen Money at Thrill Jockey Records

 

Dali’s Llama, Dying in the Sun

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It has been nearly three years since desert-dwelling rockers Dali’s Llama celebrated their two-decade run with the Twenty Years Underground vinyl (review here) and almost four since their last proper full-length, Autumn Woods (review here), was issued. For them, that’s an exceedingly long time. One can’t help but wonder if the band – now a five-piece, led as ever by guitarist/vocalist Zach Huskey and recorded as ever by Scott Reeder – went through a period of introspection in that span. After some stylistic experimentation with darker and more doomed influences, the seven tracks of Dying in the Sun would seem to reaffirm who Dali’s Llama are as they approach the quarter-century mark, bringing some of the gloom of Autumn Woods to extended centerpiece “Samurai Eyes” as easily as “Bruja-ha” seems to play off the goth-punk whimsy of 2010’s Howl do You Do? (review here). The fact is Dali’s Llama are all these things, not just one or the other, and so in bringing that together, Dying in the Sun is perhaps the truest to themselves they’ve yet been on record.

Dali’s Llama on Thee Facebooks

Dali’s Llama Records website

 

Suns of Thyme, Cascades

suns-of-thyme-cascades

Making their debut on Napalm Records, Berlin five-piece Suns of Thyme exhibit immediate sonic adventurousness on their second album, Cascades, melding krautrock and heavy psych keys and effects with a distinctly human presence in the rhythm section, engaging in songcraft in the new wave-ish “Intuition Unbound” while topping shoegaze wash with organ on “Aphelion.” It’s a vast reach, and with 14 tracks and a 55-minute runtime, Suns of Thyme have plenty of chance to get where they’re going, but the dynamic between the psych-folk of “Val Verde” and the drift of closing duo “Kirwani” and “Kirwani II” and the push of the earlier “Deep Purple Rain” impresses both in theory and practice alike. The task ahead of them would seem to be to meld these influences together further as they move forward, but there’s something satisfying about having no idea what’s coming next after the proggy sway of “Schweben,” and that’s worth appreciating as it is.

Suns of Thyme on Thee Facebooks

Suns of Thyme at Napalm Records

 

Fungal Abyss, Karma Suture

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Two huge, side-consuming slabs of primordial improvised heavy psychedelia making up a 45-minute LP with a pun title and enough wash throughout that I don’t even feel dirty looking at it? Yeah, there really isn’t a time when I don’t feel ready to sign on for weirdo exploratory stuff like that which Seattle’s Fungal Abyss elicit on Karma Suture. Available as a 12” on Adansonia Records, the album brings together “Perfumed Garden” (22:12) and “Virile Member” (23:22), both sprawling, massive jams that launch almost immediately and are gone for the duration. Way gone. I won’t discount the consumption that takes place on side A, but I think my absolute favorite part of Karma Suture might be the guitar lead on “Virile Member,” which about eight minutes in starts to lose its way and you can actually hear the band come around and pick it back up to an exciting swing. It’s moments like that one that make a group like Fungal Abyss exciting. Not only are they able to right their direction when they need to, but they’re brave enough to put the whole thing on record: as raw and genuine as it gets.

Fungal Abyss on Thee Facebooks

Adansonia Records website

 

Wicked Gypsy, Wicked Gypsy

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It’s an encouraging and unpretentious start that Malaysian four-piece Wicked Gypsy make on their self-titled, self-released three-song EP. In the 22-minute span of “Wicked Gypsy,” “Heavy Eyes” and “Gypsy Woman,” the band – vocalist/guitarist Mahmood Ahmad, bassist Mohd Azam, keyboardist Azyan Idayu and drummer Ahmad Afiq – bring together influences from modern doom and classic heavy rock, Idayu’s keys providing a distinct ‘70s flair to the opener while Azam’s wah bass and of course a liberal dose of rifffing from Ahmad lead a proto-metallic charge in “Heavy Eyes,” topped with gritty vocals reciting lyrics about smoking weed, black magic, the devil, etc. What one really hears in these tracks is Wicked Gypsy’s initial exploration of dark-themed doom rock, and while the going is rough in its sound, that adds to the appeal, and the drum solo/progressive flourish worked into “Gypsy Woman” speaks well of where they’re headed as they walk the Sabbathian path.

Wicked Gypsy on Thee Facebooks

Wicked Gypsy on Soundcloud

 

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Helen Money to Release Become Zero Sept. 16

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 24th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

helen money

Look, I’m not even gonna wax critical on this one, just read everything about the new Helen Money record, Become Zero, below and then preorder it. Couldn’t be simpler. The album is out on Sept. 16 through Thrill Jockey and follows 2013’s Arriving Angels (review here) and a 2015 collaboration with Jarboe. This Spring, Alison Chesley, the sole inhabitant of the band Helen Money, toured alongside French progressive rock legends Magma, and like them, she speaks a language entirely her own. Damn. I said I wasn’t gonna wax critical.

Save me, PR wire!

helen money become zero

LP version pressed on virgin vinyl and packaged with artworked inner sleeve and free download coupon. CD version in 4 panel mini-LP style gatefold package.

Limited quantity pressed on opaque yellow gold color vinyl

Helen Money’s Become Zero continues cellist Alison Chesley’s exploration of emotive and intense music. Written after the death of both of her parents, Become Zero amplifies Chesley’s musical ferocity with palpable sadness and striking beauty. Using her extensively manipulated cello, Chesley joins forces once more with drummer Jason Roeder (Sleep, Neurosis), Rachel Grimes (Rachel’s) and collaborator and co-producer Will Thomas (who provides sound effects and samples) on an album that is incredibly personal and visceral.

Through her music, Chesley takes us on a journey as she grapples with the concepts and the emotions of life’s end: loss, isolation, sorrow, peace and resolution. “Vanished Star” imagines a place where this life and what lies beyond it intersect in an eerie waltz between the piano and cello. “Facing the Sun,” takes its title from the loosely-translated name of the Tataviam Indians, who lived in the San Fernando Valley where Chesley grew up. “It also refers to my father who loved the Valley and loved sitting outside and feeling the sun on his skin,” Chesley says. “Radiate” begins in a place of struggle and hardship which is eventually transcended. The song starts with a dissonant, distorted chord on the cello and builds to a place where it fights with itself before finally falling apart. “To end the piece I wanted it to sound like it was dissolving into space – another reference to my father, who worked on the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs,” says Chesley. “Will and I even managed to replicate the sound of a satellite pinging at the end. The ending feels very peaceful to me. Resolved.”

On “Blood and Bone,” Chesley brought in pianist Rachel Grimes. While “Blood and Bone” is acoustic, don’t assume that it’s a gentler piece. “One of the things I struggle with as a composer is writing for my cello without any effects, especially music that is as powerful as my amplified pieces,” Chesley says. She had been practicing the 5th cello suite by JS Bach, a “very dark piece,” as she wrote Become Zero. In this suite, Bach has the cellist tune the top string down a whole step, and the music itself is very dissonant and powerful. Chesley wanted to incorporate the piano which adds a nice depth and percussiveness to the texture. So she opened the piece with those very stark chords and brought the cello in, letting it gradually take over.

Much of Become Zero was recorded at Thomas’ Los Angeles studio. Additional recording was done at Grimes’ studio outside of Louisville, Kentucky, and at East/West Studios in Hollywood. While Chesley had previously exclusively recorded analog to tape with Steve Albini, she went in a new direction for her Thrill Jockey debut. “I wanted to explore the freedom provided by digital recording,” Alison explains. “there is simply more flexibility with regards to multi-tracking…such as interfacing with electronic sounds, supplementing tracks with MIDI sounds, and ease of movement between the analog and digital domain. Become Zero’s songs called for a much wider palate of sounds.” Roeder’s drums were recorded separately at East/West Studios on a vintage Neve console. Chesley’s expanded approach to recording results in a beautiful mix of acoustic and processed sounds, a perfect fit for an album that is at once highly visceral and delicately ethereal.

Helen Money is equally at home in the New Music realm as she is in the New Metal realm. Chesley has toured extensively with an incredible array of musicians, including Shellac, Neurosis, Sleep, Russian Circles, Magma, Agalloch, Earth, and Nina Nastasia. Both Portishead and Shellac selected her for their respective All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals. Helen Money toured with Bob Mould in 2015, including a performance on the Late Show with David Letterman. Her history of collaborations with Chicago improvisers is extensive.

Chesley currently resides in Los Angeles and will be participating in a monthlong residency at the venue Complex throughout August 2016. Helen Money is actively touring throughout Europe and the United States. She will be touring again extensively in the fall and throughout 2017.

Tracklisting:
1 Every Confidence
2 Become Zero
3 Radiate
4 Blood and Bone
5 Vanished Star
6 Machine
7 Leviathan
8 Facing the Sun

http://www.thrilljockey.com/products/become-zero
http://helenmoney.com/
https://www.facebook.com/helenmoneyband/
https://twitter.com/Helen_Money

Helen Money, Live at the Regent Theater, March 16, 2016

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Helen Money Touring with Magma; New Album Soon on Thrill Jockey

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 26th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

helen money

Chicago-based experimental cellist Helen Money was in the studio as of December recording a new album that will see release at some point this year on Thrill Jockey Records. Like its predecessor, 2013’s Arriving Angels (review here), the new LP will feature a guest appearance from Neurosis/Sleep drummer Jason Roeder (at least if the studio pic is anything to go by) and Helen Money, aka Alison Chesley, is set to tour with prog legends Magma ahead of the release on that band’s first major-market run of the US in I don’t even know how many years. A lot, presumably.

Shows are presented by Nanotear, and the tour starts March 15 in San Diego. More on the new release as I hear it:

magma tour

Magma tour featuring Helen Money

HELEN MONEY TOURS WITH FRENCH PROG ROCK MASTERS MAGMA including dates in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York

Helen Money will tour the U.S. with Magma and play all but two dates (Atlanta and Toronto). “These shows with MAGMA are really special for me,” Chesley explains. “Their music comes from such a pure, inspired place and their audience is so open minded and willing to listen. To do this tour with them is a once in a lifetime thing and I can’t wait.”

“The first time we saw Helen Money play her cello we immediately thought about former Magma bass player Jannick Top, who was also playing cello,” Magma stated, adding “Her playing is genuine and intense! It will be a perfect introduction to our show”

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. She has toured with Shellac, Bob Mould, Mono, Aggaloch to name only a few. Chesley has also recorded with and/or directed string arrangements for artists like Anthrax (Worship Music), Russian Circles (Geneva), Broken Social Scene (Forgiveness Rock Record) and Yakuza.

Helen Money Tour Itinerary (all dates with Magma, check local listings for set times):
Tuesday, March 15th at Brick By Brick in San Diego, CA
Wednesday, March 16th at The Regent Theater in Los Angeles, CA
Friday, March 18th at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, CA
Saturday, March 19th at Wonder Ballroom in Portland, OR
Sunday, March 20th at Crocodile in Seattle, WA
Tuesday, March 22nd at Gothic Theater in Denver, CO
Wednesday, March 23rd at Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, OH
Friday, March 25th at Reggies in Chicago, IL
Saturday, March 26th at Reggies in Chicago, IL
Sunday, March 27th at Mohawk in Austin, TX
Wednesday, March 30th at Underground Arts in Philadelphia, PA
Friday, April 1st at Le Poisson Rouge in New York, NY

Helen Money’s current release, Arriving Angels is out now on Profound Lore, and was recorded and mixed by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio and features drummer Jason Roeder (Neurosis, Sleep). Her next album will appear on Thrill Jockey Records and the release date will be announced soon.

http://helenmoney.com/
https://www.facebook.com/helenmoneyband
https://twitter.com/Helen_Money
https://www.facebook.com/ThrillJockey/

Helen Money, “Beautiful Friends”

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audiObelisk Transmission 046

Posted in Podcasts on March 16th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Click Here to Download

 

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

I was coming down to the end of this one and decided that I couldn’t let it go without including one more track to push it toward the two-hour mark, and the weirdness of Skunk Hawk’s “Lovers of Pompeii” won out. All bets were off after JPT Scare Band anyway. Nothing to lose between that and Jonas Munk and Headless Kross. Kind of all over the place stylstically there, but each song is so immersive on its own that I figured it would work one way or another. Heaven forbid you change it up once or twice in 60 minutes. Ha.

The first hour gets pretty heavy as well — I suppose it starts that way, with Ufomammut leading off, but look out. Once Wren kicks in from the Jarboe & Helen Money track, that, Gale and Watchtower get into some serious heft. Not that the others don’t, but you know what I mean. Blah blah blah riffs. Oh yeah, and I totally snuck in some new Acid King there, because that record is killer. So dig on that for sure if you haven’t yet. As always, hope you enjoy:

First Hour:
Ufomammut, “Plouton” from Ecate
Royal Thunder, “Time Machine” from Crooked Doors
Boarchucker, “Red Rain” from Swine Throne
Suzukiton, “Snakehead” from Suzukiton II
Jarboe & Helen Money, “Hello Mr. Blue” from Jarboe & Helen Money
Wren, “Before the Great Silence” from split with Irk
Gale, “Burn Your Person” from Vol. 1
Watchtower, “Living Heads” from Radiant Moon
Leather Nun America, “Bourgeois Pig” from Buddha Knievel
Worshipper, “High above the Clouds” from Black Corridor/High above the Clouds
Acid King, “Red River” from Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere

Second Hour:
Headless Kross, “Rural Juror” from Volumes
Jonas Munk, “Absorb” from Absorb Fabric Cascade
JPT Scare Band, “Sleeping Sickness” from Acid Acetate Excursion & Rape of the Titan’s Sirens
Skunk Hawk, “Lovers of Pompeii” from Skunk Hawk

Total running time: 1:59:24

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 046

 

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Jarboe and Helen Money Collaborate on New Release, Due in March

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 12th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Given the avant garde tendencies of former Swans vocalist Jarboe and Chicago-based cellist Helen Money (née Alison Chesley), I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess at what a collaboration between the two might actually sound like in any detail or what stylistic turns or atmospheres it might present, but “textured” seems as fair a bet as any I might be willing to make. Helen Money‘s most recent album, 2013’s Arriving Angels (review here), gracefully layered progressive washes of her central instrument, but expanded around it as well, and anyone who dares predict what Jarboe‘s going to get up to on a given album is most likely just full of shit. Some of it will be very, very dark, and again, textured, but that’s as far as I’ll go.

The Jarboe and Helen Money self-titled LP is out in March on Aurora Borealis, and they’re touring Europe in Feb. Info and background off the PR wire:

jarboe and helen money

Jarboe and Helen Money join forces on wondrous new release due out on Aurora Borealis on CD and LP formats

Aurora Borealis is proud to announce the arrival of the stunning new six-track release from Jarboe and Helen Money, both of whom will be touring in Europe in February in support of their record.

Legend of underground music Jarboe joins forces with visionary cellist Helen Money (aka Alison Chesley) to create what is probably the most beautiful release in the label’s history. While still a “heavy” record in many ways, Chesley’s cello looming massive and distorted over much of the proceedings, there are moments of transcendent beauty with Jarboe’s ethereal vocal and piano work soaring above the drones, reaching for the beyond.

Jarboe, famed vocalist, musician and performer, came to prominence as co-front and co-writer in Swans, and over the past three decades has amassed 36 solo albums as well as over 63 collaborative projects with artists including… Philip Anselmo, Attila Csihar, Blixa Bargeld, Bill Laswell, John Fryer, Jim Thirlwell, Merzbow, Kris Force, Lustmord, PanSonic, Mark Spybey, Steven Severin, Chris Connelly, Alan Sparhawk, Neurosis, Edward KaSpel, William Faith, Monica Richards, David J, David Torn, Bill Rieflin, Iva Davies, Julia Kent, Zoe Keating, Anni Hogan, Meredith Yayanos, A Perfect Circle, Colin Marston, Cobalt, Cattle Decapitation, Byla, Justin K. Broadrick, Jesu, Peter Valsamis, Josh Graham, Esoteric, Vampillia, Crone… Jarboe’s influence on modern experimental music is as much bound to quality as it is astonishingly quantitative. Her accolades reflect this; Jarboe has performed and recorded in scores of countries, appeared in books, films and games, and most recently was chosen to become one of the twelve members of the National Parks Arts Foundation 2015-2016 Advisory Board.

Helen Money is the nomme de guerre of cellist Alison Chesley, an extraordinary musician capable of wholly unorthodox and often pitch-black explorations of her instrument’s farthest frontiers. In addition to working with Mono, Anthrax and Russian Circles, she has toured with Joe Lally and Shellac among others, and released her doom-stricken third album Arriving Angels on respected label Profound Lore in 2013.

Working together and separately on the compositions, the record comes together as a seamless whole under the mastering of Kris Force, with moments of sparse beauty mirrored by howling squawls of intensity. This is a very human record, organic, the voice of Jarboe and the many textured strings of Chesley’s cello combining with an earthy depth but reaching for the stars.

Aurora Borealis will be releasing Jarboe and Helen Money on March 2nd as a black vinyl LP and 4 panel digifile to coincide with their February European tour. They will be joined on dates by Alexander Hacke (Einstürzende Neubauten) and Danielle de Picciotto (Crime & The City Solution) – see the tour poster for full dates.

www.thelivingjarboe.com
www.helenmoney.com
www.aurora-b.com

Helen Money, “Beautiful Friends”

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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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