Revealing the Beauty of Pain
There are some records that dig you deeper into a hole when you’re feeling down. Then there are some records that serve to soothe the fractured soul between the headphones. Still, there undoubtedly is some apprehension involved when you glimpse the title, Pain is Beauty and you just so happen to, as Alex DeLarge said, “feel very much down in spirits.”
In this case however, the latter ends up happening, and upon pressing play, you are greeted by the bellowing, magma bubbling opener, “Feral Love,” which builds tentatively before exploding into wonderfully reckless rhythms toward the end. Undoubtedly, the record, much like many of Wolfe’s previous releases, has a dark tint to it, but it does not bathe in the bleakness as much as something like her previous effort, the primarily acoustic Unknown Rooms does. There is a nice mix of acoustic and processed textures, which both serve to give the album a evocative passages and some crucial variety.
The arrangements throughout are not sparse, but have an irresistible sense of compactness that is really refreshing and never boring. Even with tracks like the eight and a half minute-long “The Waves Have Come” and the beautiful “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone,” which pushes out and breathes a little more than the other tracks, there is always something– in the latter’s case, a centered acoustic rhythm guitar– which holds down the fort while the rest of the composition blooms around it. Then there’s a track like “Sick” that rides gorgeous melodies that sound straight out of Spanish cinema while Wolfe’s vocals slip between the crevices like tributaries flowing into a river.
Speaking of Wolfe’s voice, it shines on each track. She presents a good balance between too little and too much, and retains a nice sorrowful character to her voice without it delving into despair. And though the record will never be mistaken for a bowl of sunshine, Wolfe’s phrasings, exultations and whispers feel more like the yearnings of a person quietly crawling back from a precipice, rather than someone defeated amongst the dead leaves. The determination in her voice on a track like “Kings,” aided no doubt by the pounding rhythms and synths, provides a good example of this difference. “Ancestors, the Ancients,” too, bears the mark of someone working through things, not standing idly by.
Wolfe has been coming up in the world for a few years now, and though the record is one that will not fit everyone’s mood, it’s a well constructed record, with clever, confident songwriting, and awareness of keeping the songs working and doing interesting things while she displays her varied voice. It’s a record that might take some convincing to put on, but it is a record that rewards the open mind, and the open soul if one is willing.