Although I’ve enjoyed Low, the Duluth, Minnesota, band, for much of their career, there is something about their first release, I Could Live in Hope, with its bleak and surreal nature, which has always endeared it to me. It’s rare that I find an artist who can remind me of the barren, snow-covered fields of Indiana (where I grew up) in the winter. Surprisingly, though, I found that still, heartfelt sound from a Californian, Chelsea Wolfe. I learned of Wolfe from her collaboration with Russian Circles on their latest album, Memorial. Unfortunately, much of the Low-reminiscent sound starts to disappear after the first few songs on the album. It’s dark, but not entirely sparse and simplistic in its delivery. Afterward, the material tends to move into songs more reminiscent of Portishead or Björk, especially in the vocals. Thankfully, I like those acts, but it’s disappointing to hear it deviate from the starkness that made the first few tracks so compelling and strong. It’s those particular songs that also might help explain why Wolfe appeals to fans of doom metal, as the feel is similar, just softer. Pain Is Beauty is still a strong album, however, it seems as Wolfe hasn’t decided entirely which direction she wants to move in. Hopefully the next album will reveal a more cohesive sound.
–kurt (Sargent House, sargenthouse.com)