Chelsea Wolfe‘s 2017 album Hiss Spun saw the singer-songwriter stray ever further from her folk roots and towards a style inspired by the antagonistic realm of doom metal. This was a logical next step in the trajectory of Wolfe’s career, and partly the result of the addition of Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist Troy van Leeuwen, not to mention Kurt Ballou as producer. But the driving force behind the record were the drums of Jess Gowrie. Wolfe and Gowrie’s musical chemistry has grown over time, and now receives some deserved deeper exploration with their newly formed side project Mrs. Piss. The resulting sound is uniquely enamouring, with a style that both compiles and builds upon their collective discographies.
Where Wolfe is more commonly known to us as a singular sonic entity, Mrs. Piss sees her share the limelight, with both members’ input standing out on Self-Surgery. The sludgy grit of Gowrie’s work with Horseneck shines through, as does Wolfe’s ethereal prowess, but Gowrie’s more punk-orientated material with Happy Fangs is also a touchstone, with the eight-track album filling less than 19 minutes in total.
There’s an urgency to these tracks that surpasses anything either artist has put their name to thus far, however, with brief 40-second opener ‘To Crawl Inside’ setting out the stall. Spearheaded by distorted electronics and unsettling breathy vocalisations, the track drags the listener into a gutter in which they’ll spend the remainder of the album. “I’m bathing in the filth of the world,” Wolfe chillingly cries. Such lyrics, along with the band’s artwork and name, showcase a disdain for inhibition (whilst taking a deserved jab at a misogynist scene) that’s reflected in the unbridled music.
It’s a release that defies typical classification by virtue of a dynamic amalgamation of varying styles. ‘Downer Surrounded By Uppers’ introduces the album proper by launching forward with punky zeal. Its mix of riotous energy and soaring melodies calls to mind Belgian innovators Brutus, but instead of soaring into the post-rock stratosphere, Mrs. Piss only proceed to drag things deeper into the mud.
The captivating ‘Knelt’ is closer to Wolfe’s usual wheelhouse, with a plodding rhythm reminiscent of Marissa Nadler & Stephen Brodsky‘s ‘For The Sun’. But her captivating and sinister gothic aura – of which we’ve grown so accustomed – is given new life when placed in the fresh and unfamiliar framework of noise-driven numbers like ‘Nobody Wants To Party With Us’. Here her uncanny ability to weave a transcendent melody within even the most grating of frameworks is exemplified with aplomb.
But whilst Wolfe’s voice is usually akin to a distant siren song, here the grittier tone set by Gowrie’s drums, guitar, bass and programming helps it become a more direct force of attack, stabbing like a pang of feedback as often as it soars majestically. When her vocals reach out over the weighty bass of the title-track to become an all-consuming force, it’s truly transfixing.
It is this perfectly-balanced merging of ideas between two collaborative partners that makes the release work as well as it does. The way both members’ talents combine to create something new not only to the musicians themselves but to the music scene at large is perhaps the perfect example of how to do a collaborative project right. Wolfe has mentioned that the duo “plan to invite more womxn musicians along for future Mrs. Piss recordings,” and the prospect of this becoming something even grander, with more talented minds coming together in the writing room, is beyond exciting. For now, though, Self-Surgery is a stunning debut worthy of full praise.
Words: George Parr