Cellist Alison Chesley, who makes music as Helen Money, has been colleagues for years with composer and producer Will Thomas. Thomas has worked on a couple of Chesley’s albums (2016’s Become Zero and 2020’s Atomic), and Chesley has contributed to Thomas’s song-based collaborative project Dive Index. Chesley, who grew up in California, came to Chicago in the 1990s for graduate school and spent years here building a distinct sound that’s placed her at the nexus of scenes as diverse as indie rock, doom metal, and avant-garde classical. She then returned to Los Angeles, where Thomas also lives, and they overlapped for about seven years until Chesley moved back to Chicago. But distance has only made these musicians’ hearts grow fonder: they recently teamed up for their first fully collaborative record, Trace, a collection of 11 immersive, gradually unfurling compositions.
Trace is a studio album, but its often foreboding music evokes fantastical acoustic settings. “Someone Out There” and “Boulevard in Silence” resound as though recorded in a damp underground labyrinth. The mechanical low-brass figure ushering along “She Never Suspected” sounds like the last churnings of a cavernous, nearly abandoned factory. Other songs swaddle the ear and the heart: on companion pieces “Half Asleep” and “Half Awake,” Chesley bows plangent cello lines above a muted, slightly warped piano ostinato that Thomas seems to be playing underwater, and “Abandon” glows with the rounded resonance of a high-ceilinged chapel. “Thieves,” released as an advance single, is the biggest departure from Trace’s brooding mood, with its hurtling syncopation and cello harmonics distorted to sound like an electric guitar. Over-ear headphones recommended—but no matter how you hear it, Trace will weave its way into your brain circuitry.
Helen Money & Will Thomas’s Trace (Thrill Jockey) is available through Bandcamp.