The Chelsea Wolfe we hear in Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs is one who takes her time, deliberating where, how, and who to slip her knife into. The sparse instrumentation belies a certain richness constant throughout Wolfe’s three albums, including last year’s goth-folk Apokalypsis. On the new album, Wolfe’s voice hunkers down into a wistful throatiness, a ghostly soprano, a whispery plea.
In the smoke-filled track “Flatlands,” terrain becomes a metaphor for interior landscapes: I want flatlands, will you go there with me? “The Way We Used To” unfolds along a cautious beat, unraveling meditatively yet intuitively, almost like a somnambulistic prayer. “Appalachia” is powered by jangly guitars and nomadic strings, while closer “Sunstorm” is all driving piano and nostalgia. The haunting interlude “I Died With You” offers a perfect transition into the album’s shining track, “Boyfriend.” Undeniably creepy but beautiful, Wolfe entreats again and again, Boyfriend, be careful if you can. Here, she delicately balances two personas: that of the obsessive woman and that of the deeply vulnerable lover.
While some acoustic albums can feel weighed down by vocals or instrumentals, Unknown Rooms melds the two. It’s a love album that’s as much about “the other” as it is about the self. For all its loneliness, there’s a feeling of liberation in these rooms — and that within Wolfe’s isolation lies discovery. (Sargent House)