The cello has no limits when Alison Chesley, also known by her stage name Helen Money, picks up the bow. Her new album Become Zero, out on Thrill Jockey, is an intricate expression of the pain and sadness one experiences after tragic heartbreak. In this particular case, the album was written after the death of her parents. Chesley tackles the mess of emotions associated with death and translates them into an elegant, dense soundscape. The record is incredibly personal, illustrating immense pain, sadness, and anger — all of which amount to Become Zero’s melancholic and dense sound. Drummer Jason Roeder (Sleep, Neurosis), pianist Rachel Grimes (Rachel’s), and collaborator and co-producer Will Thomas (who provides sound effects and samples) accompany her on the album. With their help Chesley vents, and we watch the storm build and dissipate.
The album starts with the song “Every Confidence,” which upon the first lull of the low, heavy cello, announces “I’m about to pour my heart and soul out, and you’re going to listen.” The lush dark tones create an atmospheric, ambient sound that feels more aligned with traditional black metal motifs of noise rock. This continues to build in “Become Zero,” the title track, and only seven minutes into the album, you are feeling Chesley’s anger. There is a surprising nod to the classical notes of Bach in “Blood and Bone,” featuring a simple duet between piano and cello. This dark and emotional sound is therapeutic to the rest of the album, which teeters between an array complex of emotions. “Machine” is my personal favorite; the creative use of pedals gives the song a steady heartbeat, and the feeling is more light than dark. This peaceful, sedative state does not last long though, as agitation soon sets in again. The album ends strong and heavy, with songs “Leviathon” and “Facing the Sun.” Chesley’s ability to distort her instrument is a testament to her power as a musician, but also to how music can heal one’s sorrows.
Chesley is not a simple composer. In her experiments with her instrument, she modifies, amplifies, and truly twists what the cello is capable of. The blending of classical elements with more modern noise sounds creates a stellar, melancholic sympathy of pain, sadness, and most of all, the acceptance of death as a part of life. She does not shrink to zero, but instead, rises proud from the ashes as the product of what her parents left behind.
Become Zero is available now on Thrill Jockey.