Chelsea Wolfe can be ferocious, battering, and ironically endearing all at the same time. The Alternative music press is buzzing about this LP, and one is well served to explore those views given that some find my views on this matter to be maddening. Many of the press reviews heavily foreground the "goth" pabulum though that commentary quickly transitions into a discussion regarding the dynamic and rich character of the LP's compositions. Many describe it as cinematic. Ms. Wolfe is a serious minded and quickly maturing artist that has attracted an oddly fractured fan base. If you like humanism in the arts while at the same time being kicked around a bit and challenged, you will like Ms. Wolfe. Do I make her sound like a chore? Let's just say that frivolity is not Ms. Wolfe's strong suit though, as a practical matter, her music can easily work on any number of levels depending on where you want it to take you.
Ms. Wolfe is not so much an autobiographical-diary-style songwriter as she is a chronicler of questions and insights that her autobiography has brought her to. To this end, she tends to default to either poetics or story telling. Her poetics is where she tends to "go dark". This format is where artists often go to indulge in purely stylistic considerations. Reactions to poetics are complex and personal so I would be selfish to declare that Ms. Wolfe displays any of that. I will not dispute that she is a magnificent storyteller! Here, she's literal enough that even "needy" people like me find clarity. Always, she is infatuated with contrast as a conveyance. It starts with the LP's title and it never stops. Regarding "contrast", interviews with her suggest to me that she doesn't use it to mock the masses, but to illuminate and place emphasis and that it doesn't come with an agenda for anyone other than herself. Again referring to interviews, she is suspicious of mass consensus because she thinks it is manufactured by dimwitted material-historical forces that DO have agendas and those agendas don't service capital-T-truth very well.
Ms. Wolfe's penchant for ruminating "Vanitas" is still at play on 'Pain Is Beauty'. Relative to her previous work, however, this LP she is far more interested in what precedes "finality" and that something is pain & struggle as well as the vitality of pain & struggle. On these tracks (and more so in interviews) she doesn't elevate pain to that of an aesthetic but it is certainly viewed as a primary color. I think the cover art, with its objectified doll like visage, anticipates this. Piecing together what I can, she treats pain & struggle as not only two of life's essential energies and teachers but also as immanent in all things and to ignore the latter cheapens things like love, beauty and graciousness to being nothing more than hollow and inhuman ideals. Ugliness is part of the weave that binds and forms to fashion any experience as being a uniquely and fully human experience. Unlike two of the world's major religions (and any number of consumer product marketing campaigns), she doesn't view pain as something that needs to be waged war against but rather accepted, managed via perspective, and ultimately appreciated. The story formatted Track 11 try's hard to do something constructive and celebratory with this morose Lego set, and I think it achieves its goal. It's an undeniably poignant opus and one that is superbly orchestrated.
Ms. Wolfe's art is an interrogation of things commonly held to be ennobling. Maybe not so much the commonly held conclusion as to what those things are but how they are constituted. I'm convinced that she is an optimist: She is just very different in how she works through its meaning and implications. Ultimately, she may be neither the pessimist that so many people view her as or the optimist that I hope she is but rather a "realist". It all works because each perspective speaks to the substantiality of this artist. I hope Chelsea Wolfe finds the reconciliation and truth that she is seeking. I admire how she asks interesting questions in interesting ways and how she appreciates that what often appear to be answers are not what they pass themselves off to be.