While it’s easy to overlook, there are actually quite a few affinities between punk rock and folk. Both genres are minimal and direct, and often express politically or socially contrarian ideologies. Chelsea Wolfe’s latest EP, Prayer for the Unborn, explores the bridge that lies between these two genres through seven covers of songs by the British anarcho-punk rock act, Rudimentary Peni.
Since the early 80s, Rudimentary Peni has consistently produced fast and feral bursts of punk rock that end only moments after they begin. They’re the type of band for whom a three minute song qualifies as an epic. The throttling songs function as vehicles for singer/guitarist Nick Blinko’s bleak and abstract poetry. Blinko’s brief poems range from the sardonic (“Let us rest/ in oblivion/ Forever/ and ever/ Amen”) to the genuinely tortured (“It matters not that I did seek/ to conquer fear and vanquish pain/ for victory belongs to grief/ so into tears dissolve in vain.”). These verbal collages are all placed behind the same harsh, gritty backdrop, collectively producing a vision of a corrupted world in need of rebirth.
Chelsea Wolfe’s cover of Rudimentary Peni’s “Prayer for the Unborn”
Such raw, simplistic punk might seem difficult to express through the lens of another genre, but if anyone is up for that challenge, it’s certainly Chelsea Wolfe. Wolfe has shown herself to be a versatile songwriter who is capable of drawing from influences as disparate as Radiohead and Burzum to create cohesive songs that convey her own unique vision. On Prayer for the Unborn, Wolfe again displays this versatility by making Rudimentary Peni’s compositions her own while nonetheless staying true to the music’s anarchistic spirit.
Wolfe actually simplifies Rudimentary Peni’s already minimalistic template by stripping the songs down to vocals and clean guitar. The studio has a very echoic sound, which gives the recording a good amount of body, despite the sparse number of elements at play. As usual, Wolfe adds layer upon layer of reverb to her voice, which further fills out the sound.
Though the EP is over in the time it takes to brew a pot of coffee, Wolfe manages to explore a nice range of moods and sounds. While Wolfe stays true to Rudimentary Peni’s original chord progressions, she heavily modifies the tempos and intensities. On “A Handful of Dust” Wolfe’s high, glassy vocals flutter in like an apparition on the wings of a lightly strummed guitar. “Black on Gold /Sickening for Something” is a boisterous anthem, with marching power chords and low, clear, chanting. For the title track, Wolfe turns on the distortion, creating a roaring accompaniment to her atonal rendition of Blinko’s nihilistic prayer.
Prayer for the Unborn is certainly an unusual cover album, but the world could use more cover albums like this one. Instead of simply regurgitating Rudimentary Peni’s sound, Wolfe breathes new life into their songs. As a result, both artists are presented in a new light. Prayer for the Unborn highlights the punk rock element of Wolfe’s lo-fi folk that is easy to overlook but once noticed, seems undeniable. At the same time, Wolfe’s emotive performance reveals an exposed and venerable dimension to Rudimentary Peni’s music that often lies hidden behind the more explicit feeling of caustic angst. Such unexpected insights make Prayer for the Unborn a worthwhile experience for fans of either artist.
Written by Jael Reboh
OurVinyl | Contributor
[To purchase this EP on Amazon just click here]