I'm usually a fan of "between" albums — the ones that break away from an artist's established sound, either tentatively or extravagantly, exploring the extremes of inspiration. These records are often misunderstood upon immediate release, but offer clues to an artist's discography over time. Tim Buckley had a couple of these (Blue Afternoon, Happy Sad) before entirely leaving pretty-boy folk for out-there jazz-rock, while Current 93's Thunder Perfect Mind was only the tip of the industrial-turned-apocalyptic-folk iceberg. Without the benefit of hindsight, Chelsea Wolfe's forthcoming Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs feels like it will provide the unexpected link between last year's excellent Apocalypsis and 2013's reportedly more electronic record.
Since 2009, Wolfe has mixed electric blues and folk with an eye on the dark side. Stripping her sound down to acoustic guitar and strings, her third album contains "once-orphaned" songs with only the essential elements. But to say that Unknown Rooms is simply Wolfe's "acoustic record" is misleading; it's every bit as ethereal and haunting as past work that mines the darkness of artists like Burzum and Leonard Cohen in one breath. It's just that now we're in the same room, sharing her desolation and desire.
Moaned like a warped Southern gospel hymn, "The Way We Used To" opens with Chelsea Wolfe's voice — and she's got soul like she's just lost a part of it. Operating at a funereal pace, the gently swinging brushed drums trail behind Wolfe's mourning, sounding as if they were recorded in a lost hallway. The same goes for the lilting electric guitar somewhere in the background, barely heard over the hurt. It's a simple song, but it gets at the more "songwriterly" approach of an album which spans the acoustic spectrum, from sweet love songs to the stately neo-folk of Sol Invictus to OK Computer's eerie calm.
Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs comes out Oct. 16 on Sargent House. Chelsea Wolfe is currently on tour with Russian Circles.