From Nick Drake's 'Cello Song' to the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, the cello has, in the past, become commonly associated with mournful ballads or melancholy classical music.
Through exceptional female artists like Julia Kent and Hildur Guðnadóttir the wider potential of the instrument has now become firmly established. The name Helen Money, the alias of composer and classically trained cellist Alison Chesley, can safely be added to this esteemed company of innovators.
While there are some formal introspective minimalist pieces on this album, Chesley shows that you can riff on the cello as effectively as any hard rocker. The diversity of artists she has collaborated with is indicative of her versatility; these include Rachel Grimes (Rachel’s), Shellac, Earth, Bob Mould and MONO.
The album establishes a finely tuned level of intensity combined with a vivid sense of cathartic release. Chesley explains that the album was written during a period of transition after the death of her parents : “My sister and brother and I would often get together at my brother’s house in the Redwoods of Northern California. Being there with them, looking up at these giant trees that were there long before we were, looking up at the Milky Way, looking out at the Pacific Ocean - it just gave me a sense of perspective and how connected we all are to everything.”
This epiphany was confirmed in with her study of the early Roman Humanists, in particular Lucretius, and the album title comes from this philosopher's atomic theory.
Chesley says she went through a process or stripping back compositions to the bare essentials. The beautifully sparse yet striking opening ambient tracks, Midnight and Understory, were obviously composed in this vein. We find it too in the poised beauty of Something Holy and in the meditative closing tracks Redshift and Many Arms.
But the relatively understated tone is by no means maintained throughout. For instance, the quieter pieces are in stark contrast to the fierce industrial rhythms of Nemesis and to the heavy strumming on Coil. Brave One maintains the post-rock drama, being constructed around two cello parts and underpinned by modular electronics provided by collaborator Will Thomas.
Other instruments extend the sonic range such as the harp on Coppe and drums on Marrow
The constant shifts between harshness and delicacy are deliberately disorientating as though to stress that true harmony is only possible with an holistic balance of the two extremes.
'Atomic' is every bit as remarkable as Helen Money's brilliant 2016 album 'Become Zero' and another astonishingly impressive achievement.
Helen Money's website