I can hear you muttering now. “Bit late to the party here, aren’t we?”
As the old adage goes, it’s never too late. As you will soon find out.
Weyes Blood‘s Natalie Mering makes music equivalent to a vivid dream-state. After her stunning 2016 release, Front Row Seat to Earth, Mering continues her artistic ascent with Titanic Rising, further exploring themes that question the modern-day human condition.
It’s been an intriguing journey for Mering. Formerly a part of Portland experimental oddities, Jackie-O Motherfucker, Mering released her debut full-length, the dream-folk campfire offerings of The Innocents in 2014, which followed 2011 EP, The Outside Room.
With both releases navigating through the marshlands of the avant-garde, it was Weyes Blood’s second album, Front Row Seat to Earth, that witnessed Mering emerge from these soggy terrains.
Front Row Seat to Earth cast Mering as a bit of a throwback. Bursting with a’70s west coast pastiche with some hippified Laurel Canyon ambiance thrown in. Music tailor-made for churches.
Lyrically, Front Row Seat to Earth was equally imposing, with climate change and the endless questions of modern-day living firmly in her ire. Mering was the only person in 2016 who gracefully got away with singing “YOLO” during a chorus (Generation Why).
Released through Mexican Summer, Front Row Seat to Earth was an album with boundless layers, unraveling more the longer spent in its company. An undoubted beast of beauty and although it was released in the November of that year, still deservedly made its way to many end of year lists.
Having signed with Sub Pop in 2017, her next oeuvre has been in the works for some time and April this year we were graced with the next chapter in the Weyes Blood journey. Titanic Rising.
Making my way to Phase One on the Friday morning of April 5 and throwing it on the turntable platter shortly after, aesthetically, it sounded very much together. Not a world away from Front Row Seat to Earth, but in terms of orchestral quality and floating arrangements, it was there.
Like Front Row Seat to Earth, Titanic Rising‘s artwork provides thought-provoking juxtapositions. Someone’s safe space being submerged in what could easily be a metaphor for a world moving too fast and invading the psyche? Or is it a direct fuck you to climate change sceptics? Again, Mering tickled the conscience with clever ambiguities.
After twenty listens to Titanic Rising, thoughts hadn’t shifted. It was a nice companion with the morning’s cup of tea. Charming. Inoffensive.
However, there was someone stirring in the subconscious about this record. A hidden depth that seemed impenetrable. Like fumbling your way through the dark to find a secret passageway to a new world.
Most times after giving a record twenty listens you develop an understanding on whether it clicks or not. The elusive qualities of Titan Rising remained very much that way, like an itch that couldn’t be scratched.
Rather than using Titanic Rising as an accompaniment to morning caffeine, the beginning of a spiritual awakening occurred. Mering seemingly guided me into the twilight zone. And once there, like a visit to the Black Lodge, something happened.
“Looking up to the sky for something I may never find/Stop calling/It’s time to let me be/If you think you can save me/I’d dare you to try.”
Mering‘s lyrics to the album’s second track, Andromeda, completely stopped me in my tracks. Like there was a ghost prowling the room, finally scratching that itch whilst wooing me to digest animal tranquilisers. It was a numbing moment. Like the first time of listening to Nick Cave‘s Skeleton Tree or Josh T. Pearson‘s Last of the Country Gentlemen. That moment.
The next thing I remember was being brought back to some form of reality with the morose, melodic lament that is Mirror Forever.
“No one’s ever gonna give you a trophy/For all the pain and the things you’ve been through/No one knows but you/Kinda crazy when you’re looking right through me/Something forceful about yourself/Just say the word and, baby, know that I’ll be there/I’m not scared.”
Then it dawned on me. I’d been totally absorbed with Titanic Rising‘s sonic aesthetic that Weyes Blood‘s lyrics weren’t even a consideration. A complete mental block. It was like trying to strike a wet match. On the twenty-first time of trying something finally sparked and Weyes Blood was talking to me.
The pearls of wisdom Mering provides on Titanic Rising are, quite frankly, off the scale. Terrifying, even. An album that was engaging in direct dialogue with me and up until this very point and I wasn’t listening. It was like the spirits finally said, “Your time has come.”
Whilst Titan Rising provides a richer backdrop than its predecessor, the sweeping arrangements still manage to blur the lines between the grandiose and bedroom pop, sitting between the lines nicely to project an array of luminous ice sculpture one minute, slow motion waterfalls the next. These tender orchestral qualities are the perfect bedding for Mering‘s soft elegant vocals to soar beyond the ether.
While Mering‘s voice provides alluring ease across the room, it’s her lyrics that transform Titan Rising into something truly game-changing.
“If I could go back to a time before now/Before I ever fell down/Go back to a time when I was just a girl/When I had the whole world/Gently wrapped around me,” sings Mering, on what are the opening lines to the majestic A Lot’s Gonna Change.
While tracks like Generation Why strongly hinted towards it, this confirms what Mering truly is. A soul not for these times. A roving charlatan. A cosmic drifter, just like her modern contemporaries, A.A. Bondy and Cass McCombs. Artists trying to make sense of a new world where social media is seemingly the focal point for, well … everything.
“And no good thing could be taken away/If I still believe that hearts don’t lie/You’re gonna be just fine/But, babe/ A lot’s gonna change/In your lifetime/Try to leave it all behind/In your lifetime,” she continues.
A Lot’s Gonna Change is a song about losing your innocence, wanting time to stop. We’ve all been here.
Going back to the cinematic prairie-hum of Andromeda, it’s a track that reaches the depths of your heart in what is up there as the most striking moment on Titanic Rising.
“Love is calling/It’s time to let it through/Find a love that will you/I dare you try.”
One of many defiant statements as Mering stares into the face of adversity.
Everyday follows and whilst said to be inspired by the crumbling fault-lines of online dating, there’s still defiance dripping from Mering‘s missives.
“True love is making a comeback/For only half because the rest just feel bad/Doomed to wander in the world’s first rodeo.
“I need a love everyday,” sings Mering. Her voice hasn’t sounded so large and intense, dwarfing the horizon.
Apart from the odd flourish of steel-pedal guitar, it’s the only track that features a full-on guitar riff throughout Titanic Rising and it’s put to good use during a ditty that bleeds with the notion of hope, despite where that hope may lead.
The gently presented keys and spacious bass line of Something to Believe make way for a melody that cuts through you like a hot knife to butter. Mering‘s words are equally shrill.
“When fire leaves a girl/Too burned to dry my life/Living on a fault line/And then I/I just lay down and cry/The waters don’t really go by me/Give me something I can see/Something bigger and louder than the voices in me/Something to believe.”
Something to Believe could be about mental health as much as it could be about climate change. It’s probably about both. It’s Mering inadvertently creating a choose-your-own-adventure scenario and perhaps the most ambiguous poetic moment on the album.
The hazy mood-scapes through Movies could echo from the bottom of a canyon all the way to its top, chilling you from head to toe with frenzied strings exposing a new emotional intensity.
“Some people feel what some people don’t/Some people watch until they explode/The meaning of life doesn’t seem to shine like that screen.”
On Movies, the album reaches fever pitch. Mering really going for it amid the backdrop of orchestral grandeur.
While Andromeda is side one’s greatest triumph there is little doubt that Wild Time is side two’s illuminating conquest. It’s Titanic Rising wrapped up in just over six minutes.
“Living in the rising sun/Our life, a feeling that’s moving/Running on a million people burning/Don’t cry, it’s a wild time to be alive/It already happened/Nothing you want to change more/Heaven found that life went down/Everyone’s broken now and no one knows just how/We could have all gotten so far from truth.”
Where there was sharp critique perfectly demonstrated with Generation Why, here Mering seems to have taken stock, now seemingly content with the unremitting chaos of the world in front of her. It’s Weyes Blood possessing dry humour, quite literally telling it like it is.
Picture Me Better is about lost love, or it could be. It feels like two people from parallel universes trying to reconnect.
“Got a lot of dreams and songs to say/Hearts to break/Waiting for the call from beyond/Waiting for something with meaning/To come through soon.”
The way Mering delivers the line “Got a brand new big suit of armour” redefines perfection in yet another captivating moment during an album parting liberally with them.
Like side one, side two ends with a dehumanizing reach-for-the-sky interlude which, like Front Row Seat to Earth, Weyes Blood has shrewdly shoehorned within the confines of her sonic résumé.
Since the release of Titanic Rising, it’s hard to remember coming across a record that has taken so long to seep into the skin. It’s living proof that the slower burners are often the best. You can grow to love something.
Titanic Rising is skewed pop music that provides a faint light for ever-narrowing corridors. Lost love. The burden of hope. The sheer hilarity of it all. You could be having some sort of existential crisis but listening to Mering part with heart-breaking diatribes such as in Movies and, oddly enough, you can’t help but think that things might just be okay.
Along with Mering‘s cataclysmic abilities to pen the perfect love song, in a world that’s moving too fast for us all, Mering questions these times as best as anyone, providing a naked optimism that both the past and present can somehow coexist in the future. It’s not an overt message per se, it a softly radiates and gently probes. And no one is delivering the memorandum better than Weyes Blood.