The Best Albums of 2013, #15

band01Chelsea Wolfe, Pain is Beauty

As much as I have admired Chelsea Wolfe’s music over the past three years, it wasn’t until I had a chance to see her live that I started to get a grasp on just what this singer-songwriter is capable off. Granted, it was a fleeting glimpse, as I had to run to catch a train – much to my eternal regret – but it was such a greatly expanded sound than what was evident on The Grime and the Glow and Ἀποκάλυψις, much darker, more atmospheric, and more intense. Last year’s intimate Unknown Rooms, a lovely acoustic album, was only a brief respite before the release of what would be Wolfe’s most ambitious album yet, and true enough, Pain is Beauty comes as close to replicating that beautifully harrowing live sound as she ever has. Awash in drones and primal drumming that echo Swans, synths, orchestral pop arrangements, and possessing a perpetual undercurrent of menace, the aptly titled Pain is Beauty is a sumptuous journey into darkness, but although the aura of black metal follows her around, as do slavish extreme metal fans – her looks, her image, that font, and covering Burzum will do that – the darkness is ultimately more reminiscent of Nick Cave and especially PJ Harvey. That becomes more apparent the longer this album goes on, especially on the forlorn “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone”, which build and builds in such an ornate way you’d swear it was an outtake from To Bring You My Love or Is This Desire. You get the feeling Chelsea Wolfe is only just starting to allow her music to branch out, and the way this album feels so eclectic yet so thematically consistent is a testament to her vision. Her stature will only grow with each new record.