Text: Paul van der Zalm
Judging by the releases we usually describe on CHAOS Music Magazine, you might not immediately expect a description here of Natalie Mering’s new album, the fifth released this week under the name Weyes Blood. However, the fact that this is the second album for the – like Chaos – quirky label Sub Pop is already telling. On top of that, this is the follow-up to Titanic Rising, which is seen by critics as one of the best albums of 2019. According to Mering, both albums should be seen as parts 1 and 2 of a trilogy. Last but not least, she delivers yet another performance of the outer category with this album.
On first listen, this might not even be so noticeable. The songs are nice to listen to and Mering has a pleasant voice similar to Rumer’s. Another association could be Lana Del Rey, with whom she recorded Joni Mitchell’s song For Free for Del Rey’s album Chemtrails Over The Country Club. And musically, the theatrical element of Rufus Wainwright or Van Dyke Parks is also a good reference. That theatrical aspect comes out well in the wryly-ironic video accompanying the opening track It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody in which you see Mering dancing in a setting that resembles the ruins of civilisation, the doom image that was central to Titanic Rising. The title refers to a Buddhist hymn; looking at it from a distance, we’re all in the same boat, whether it’s major social problems or private troubles.
Because of the theatricality and the Buddhist reference, the link to religion is quickly made. Although in her youth she turned away from the Pentecostal church her parents joined and was even briefly part of the band Satanized, you can see and hear that fascination with a religious experience through music and the comfort it can provide in all the songs. (It is also no coincidence that the name Weyes Blood is derived from Wise Blood, a book by Flannery O’Connor.) The best evidence of this is God Turn Me Into a Flower, a heavenly, almost Gregorian-like song ending with birdsong, which refers to the classic story about Narcissus who was fascinated by his mirror image. This naturally ties in with Andromeda from the previous album.
The album title is derived from 2 tracks, the short interlude And in the Darkness following Hearts Aglow, a song with harmony vocals, band accompaniment and lots of drama. The glowing heart is also seen on the album cover. Mering says: “It’s like a glow stick: you crack it and it glows. It’s about the power of having your heart so broken that it would emanate a light.” So on the one hand, that’s another very personal experience, but at the same time an archetypal religious image. The strong single Grapevine, with a layered arrangement and a flute melody that seems straight out of the Moody Blues’ classic Nights In White Satin and the song The Worst is Done with a light bossa nova rhythm and a happy-sounding chorus sound a bit more earthy.
Still, despite the subject matter, the whole album leaves a comforting feeling due to its sophisticated beauty. And because most of the songs also last about 6 minutes, the listener also gets every opportunity to surrender to them. Only the instrumental synthesiser track In Holy Flux is somewhat different with its 1:48. The last word is to Mering: “Chaos is natural. But so is negentropy, or the tendency for things to fall into order. These songs may not be manifestos or solutions, but I know they shed light on the meaning of our contemporary disillusionment. And maybe that’s the beginning of the nuanced journey towards understanding the natural cycles of life and death, all over again.”
The third album in the trilogy should be one of hope. We are already looking forward to it!