Chelsea Wolfe has a surreal voice that cuts through her foggy, soulful, often haunting rock and folk music. There's a thorny vision of yearning, heartbreak and death in Wolfe's songs that's striking, yet always brings us back to what makes these bleak themes so appealing, even beautiful. When I heard that Wolfe would "go electronic" for the forthcoming Pain Is Beauty, it was no shock; after all, synths and noise had been part of her textures all along. But with "The Warden," Wolfe has taken the fog to the club.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Goth kids like to dance, too. "Cities in Dust," "Lucretia, My Reflection," "Fantastique" — all pitch-black clubbers that pop and lock with darkness. (Well, maybe not so much with the popping and locking.) "The Warden" finds camaraderie among those cavernous dance-floor staples, but its clipping 4/4 beat, Wolfe's plaintive voice and what sounds like a hammered dulcimer keeping pace with stabbing synths — it's almost like the Goth Madonna from the "Frozen" video made peace with the rest of Ray of Light.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Chelsea Wolfe song without some sonic perversion, as frequent collaborator Ben Chisholm clusters whistling synths in the last minute. As compared to the whole of Pain Is Beauty, "The Warden" is a remix-worthy anomaly on Wolfe's fourth album. But beatmakers have been given notice.
Pain Is Beauty comes out Sept. 3 on Sargent House.