Cellist Helen Money explores grief on her meditative new album, Atomic | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Cellist Helen Money explores grief on her meditative new album, Atomic

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California-born Chicagoan cellist Alison Chesley, aka Helen Money, studied at Northwestern, played in 90s indie-rock band Verbow, and often collaborates with the likes of Sanford Parker, Bruce Lamont, and Russian Circles. As a solo artist she’s cut her own road through the hills of heavy music, drone, and avant-garde. Her brand-new album, Atomic (Thrill Jockey), is a personal statement on readjusting to the world after the deaths of her parents; it’s about the tension of embracing grief as the new normal while also holding it at arm’s length (and cello bow’s length). The music is mostly minimalist, full of expansive spaces, slow breathing, and the cool, damp atmosphere of a temperate rainforest. When Money approaches the heavy, monstrous feel she prefers for her metal-adjacent work (as on “Coil”), her buildups ease the listener into it gradually; her mountain range of crushing riffs is visible from a long way off. Opening track “Midnight” is intimate without being clingy, its somber circling around and returning creating welcome space. “Brave One” lopes quietly, like a lone coyote in the night warming up to a melodic, yearning sort of howl. Money has always created new perceptions of what her instrument is and how can be used in rock and avant-garde music (see her 2012 Reader Artist on Artist chat with violist John Cale, where they talk shop about effects and amplification), so it’s a shame we can’t see her work that magic live anytime soon. It’s truly impressive to see with your own eyes that yes, she’s making all those sounds with a cello. But she’s gifted us with a haunting, meditative record to spend time exploring in isolation.   v

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