Personnel: Alison Chesley (cello, piano); Jason Roeder (drums); Michael Friedman (drum programming); Will Thomas (sampler, sound effects).
Recording information: East West Studios, Los Angeles; Neutral Studios, Los Angeles.
Photographer: Matt Lamaire.
Helen Money is the solo project of Alison Chesley, a Los Angeles-based cellist and composer who formed alternative rock band Verbow in the mid-'90s and has since appeared on well over 100 recordings as a session musician. Most of her track record consists of indie rock, punk, and metal albums rather than modern classical works, and it's not hard to hear why, as her intense, effects-heavy cello playing can sometimes be mistaken for a distorted electric guitar. Following three solo albums and a 2015 collaboration with former Swans vocalist Jarboe, Become Zero is the first Helen Money album to be released by Chicago's well-respected Thrill Jockey Records, but it isn't Chesley's first appearance on the label, as she contributed to albums by the Sea and Cake and their guitarist, Archer Prewitt, during the early 2000s. Become Zero is also the first Helen Money album to utilize multi-track digital recording, as her previous efforts were all recorded direct to tape by analog purist Steve Albini. As such, it's far more atmospheric and layered than her prior releases, incorporating pianos, thundering drums (courtesy of Jason Roeder from Neurosis and Sleep), and subtle sampling. The compositions are spacious and expertly paced, often starting calm before building up layers, or sometimes just attacking with metallic riffing. The album was written in response to the death of both of Chesley's parents, and it's every bit as emotionally turbulent as one would expect. However, it's not just a torrent of brooding sorrow and rage. There are plenty of peaceful moments, particularly the ones reflecting Chesley's father's interest in space travel. "Machine" mostly contains fluttering backwards cello notes, suspensefully building up to a swirling peak before ending with calm, solitary piano. "Blood and Bone" features Rachel Grimes (of indie chamber music ensemble Rachel's) playing stark piano notes, eventually joined by a multi-tracked band of Chesleys. On the heavier side, "Become Zero" and especially "Leviathan" (possibly named in tribute to the one-man American black metal act of the same name) explode with rumbling drums and furious riffage. Become Zero is a stunning album that takes Helen Money's already otherworldly, highly accomplished sound to fascinating new levels. ~ Paul Simpson