Natalie Mering’s fifth album is a compelling and beautifully told tale of coming out of the darkness
Natalie Mering’s fifth album as Weyes Blood is also billed as the middle part of a trilogy, following up 2019’s Titanic Rising. Underneath the soft rock trappings, that record had an uneasily portentous feel to it, and on And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, Mering builds on these atmospherics.
For, at first glance, Weyes Blood’s music is soothing, accessible and even comforting. There’s Mering’s voice for one thing – strong, smooth and uncannily reminiscent at times of Karen Carpenter. Her songs are lushly orchestrated, and often take their sweet time to unfold, with the average track time on And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow usually clocking in at around the six minute mark.
If you allow yourself to luxuriate in Weyes Blood’s sound though, you’ll notice there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface. Opening track It’s Not Just Me It’s Everybody sees Mering standing awkwardly at a party, and that sense of unease and isolation underpins the rather lovely piano melody. Strings swell, and harps twinkle, but it’s Mering’s longing for connection in a upside-down world that stands out, especially after the global turmoil of the last few years.
In many ways, it’s the perfect soundtrack to a world struggling to emerge from a pandemic. The gorgeous Hearts Aglow (nodding, melodically at least, to Father John Misty‘s more recent work) sees Mering bemoan about being without friends and stopping having fun, while The Worst Is Done will sum up many people’s feelings about the last few years, talking of loneliness in big cities and missing friends and family.
There’s an impressive cast of guests helping to create the sound of the record, including Daniel Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never and Jonathan Rado of Foxygen who co-produces the album. It’s that sound which is crucial to Weyes Blood’s success – in a similar way to Mering’s sometime collaborator Lana Del Rey, it’s those simple yet lush soundscapes that pull you in and remain hypnotic throughout. The Del Rey comparisons are most appropriate on Grapevine, a beautifully orchestrated road song about breaking down in “an old ghost town” where an “emotional cowboy, with no hat and no boots” resides. Even a relatively short instrumental interlude like In Holy Flux (lasting less than two minutes) holds the attention beautifully.
If there’s a criticism to be had, it’s that it all sometimes seems a bit cold. Tracks like God Turned Me Into A Flower or Twin Flame are beautifully poised and expertly orchestrated, but there’s a distance there that prevents you from fully connecting with Mering’s music. That is, of course, in fitting with the album’s themes of isolation and despair, but it’s only when the darkness seems to lift on the optimistic The Worst Is Over that you feel like you can really relax.
That track, and the closing lament of A Given Thing sets up the premise for the final part of the trilogy, which will be about hope. In the meantime, this tale of coming out of the darkness is as compelling and beautifully told as you’d expect from Weyes Blood. Roll on part three.