As a very good friend of mine put it, “Chelsea Wolfe is great bathtub music.” Turn off the lights, light a cigarette, get a candle going, and drift away. Wolfe’s newest output, Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, is everything you need to fully embrace the darkness of the newborn autumn. But, unlike her previous two albums, Apokalpysis (2011) and The Grime and the Glow (2010), this album isn’t nearly as dark. We see the stripped down version of Wolfe, still howling and crying in the night, but with much more tranquility. With a pensive voice comparable to Portishead or Karen O, Wolfe does a great job fully immersing the listener in what she has to say.
The second track on the album, “The Way We Used To”, feels like a funeral at midnight. Instead of ghosts and ghouls, though, we see nothing more than a lonely girl pouring out her heart, maybe to a loved one, maybe to whoever feels like listening. Is it too far to call this Chelsea Wolfe album a female Bon Iver creation? “Appalachia”, a wandering, nomadic track, summons up the spirits of P.J. Harvey and some Salem Witch Trials. I can feel the fire burning in the distance. This is beautiful, atmospheric bedtime tracks, perfect for a poetry reading, a fairy tale, approaching fog. With a mysterious and dark album cover of Wolfe hiding her face, we get a sense of seclusion, perhaps sadness, in our hero. We root for her, we want her to get up from her slump, all the while continuing to create such lovely, sad songs.
The only problem with Chelsea Wolfe’s latest effort is the memorability of it all. After Unknown Rooms is finished, will you remember it? Will you instantly play it again? Probably not. Chances are, it was turned on to fall asleep to and you’re already dreaming of something much more extraordinary. This is a beautiful album and a fine selection for the witching hour, but nothing more than a soft, sweet lullaby. The nine songs fly by, none of them sticking after the next begins. Something that will allow you to drift, to think of other things, to meditate, to finish your vampire novel. Unknown Rooms is not one that will be thrown into the CD player for a long car ride.