The image of the cello is one of classical poise and grace – an instrument of deft technique and impressive technical skill. All of that comes to play on Helen Money – but not for music of the renaissance, but rock.
Alison Chesley is the musician also known as Helen Money, and on her first self titled solo album she lets it all out. Her amplified cello whines, whacks, and wails its way through songs that flow along the spectrum of edgy classicism, to comfortable electronic. They jump from one idiom to the other.
The disc opens on an incredibly promising note with “Dreaming” – it’s all wailing distortion, percussive thwacking of the strings against the fingerboard, and deep darkness of sound. “Birds” comes from a calm place – the cello sounds out against a background of distortion and pizzicato that resembles the flitting of swallows through a gray sky. “Hendrix” pays obligatory tribute to that figure of greatness, and swirls with psychedelic energy, sounding like nothing if not the trip of a nightmare.
But throughout each song we keep waiting for the big splash, the wham that throws the hair out of your face and rolls your shoulders back. Although the whole soundscape is very cool, there is something missing.
The beauty of this kind of music, this wordless expression of sounds, is that it can take time to change and develop. Sadly, the short 3-4 minute pop song format seems to truncate the open nature of the form she’s creating. The one extensive track, “I’ll See You in Hell” takes it’s time, and meanders a bit along the path. Though it’s one of the less interesting tunes musically, it presents an experience that can be savored and enjoyed.
With all of Helen Money, there is the sense that there is something big here, and places we want to be taken – we just need a little more time to get there.
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