By MICHAEL GOLDBERG
The term “Lynchian” — invoking the cinematic works of iconic director David Lynch while discussing some kind of art — is often critical shorthand for describing things that are moody, surreal and unsettling, and not easily grasped or digested upon first encounter.
However, in the case of Los Angeles songstress Chelsea Wolfe, the adjective is wholly apropos.
Purveyor of a doomy, spooky amalgam of torch-folk, post-punk and drone-metal upon which she drapes her ethereal vocals — which are reminiscent at times of Siouxsie Sioux, Polly Jean Harvey or Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval — Wolfe, like Lynch, skillfully juxtaposes the innocent and the nightmarish, the concrete and the mercurial, the darkness and the hope, to where the contrasts seem inextricably linked and the art is that much more compelling and profound.
“Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter,” an especially stunning track from her most recent LP, 2013’s Pain Is Beauty, captures that aesthetic in both title and approach: The heavily reverbed chords and vocals, and the cooing harmonies in the chorus, ooze ‘60s girl-group charm (music Lynch often uses to soundtrack his explorations of life’s dark underbellies) yet it’s shot through with dread-guitar noise as Wolfe intones “Ate a piece of the devil’s body/The face of the devil follows me.”
“The Warden,” too, revels in paradox. A throbbing synthetic groove, joined by Wolfe’s gossamer exhalations and Greek melodies fashioned from hammered dulcimer, create lush beauty in the service of disquieting imagery: “My body holds a picture of the sun – it’s you/The warden bore a hole in my skull, it’s true/Tore off my limbs and my breasts/The heart it’s heavy in the chest.”
Wolfe has professed her admiration for Lynch in the press, telling England’s The Guardian in 2011 that the director’s films are “like reality to me — life is strange, and full of dark corners.”
She’s been exploring those dark corners since childhood. A native of Sacramento, Wolfe started writing gothy pop songs at age 9, and recorded them in her father’s home studio — he was in a country band called El Dorado, and his love of the stark, sometimes-forlorn music of Hank Williams rubbed off on Wolfe, even if she pushed those elements into a different musical realm.
After years of honing her sound and artistic vision, Wolfe released her first album, “The Grime and the Glow,” in 2010; a raw and startlingly intense debut that won acclaim for its “frightening airs” and “beautiful pain,” as various critics put it.
Wolfe followed with 2011s “Apokalypsis” and the next year’s “Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs” — a compilation of her older material — and established herself as a riveting live performer who initially hid her face behind veils (for both personal and artistic reasons) but in recent years has become more comfortable in the (literal) spotlight as she plays with her backing band, which usually includes a viola player and a keyboardist.
Tours with the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, Russian Circles and True Widow, among others, have helped develop a growing fanbase and considerable buzz, and, like her albums, Wolfe’s live shows can be mesmerizing, and a place where the bleak and the bright, the sinister and the sublime, can exist as one.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Chelsea Wolfe, opening for Eels.
WHERE: Keswick Theater, 291 N. Keswick Ave, Glenside.
WHEN: Friday, May 30.
TICKETS: $25, $32.50 & $37.50, and show begins at 8 p.m
INFO.: Check www.keswicktheatre.com