Natalie Mering, the luminary singer/songwriter behind Weyes Blood, recently remarked, “That I ended up making beautiful, feminine music is a surprise.” It’s hard to believe that anyone who can write the shimmering, illustrative folk found on Titanic Rising or Front Row Seat to Earth could come to this music by accident. But arguably, she has: In high school, Mering’s fixation on esoteric noise initially inspired her entry into making music. She launched Wise Blood, named for Flannery O’Connor’s midcentury Southern Gothic opus, altering the spelling over time: Weyes Bluhd in the late aughts, Weyes Blood and The Dark Juices for 2011’s The Outside Room, and finally Weyes Blood from The Innocents on, conveniently establishing distinct eras for the evolving project. Sonic and temporal boundaries are porous, but roughly speaking: If you encounter a Weyes Bluhd record, you can expect lo-fi, eerie noise; if you find Weyes Blood and The Dark Juices, you can anticipate gothic-folk experiments akin to Circuit des Yeux; if you pick up a Weyes Blood record, you’ll probably hear expansive baroque pop.
What’s most exciting about Weyes Blood’s music is that Mering’s keen ear for noise, dark ambient and early music never went away; on 2022’s And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, her experimental foundation pushes baroque pop to even higher heights. The second record in a trilogy, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow responds to the sense of impending doom in Titanic Rising, reckoning with the atomization and devastation that Mering observes all over. Given the chronology of these two albums, it feels almost too fitting for a pandemic to knock the globe off its axis, blanketing the planet in dread and rending social bonds through mass death and enforced separation. Here we are now; can we make sense of it all?
To celebrate Weyes Blood’s magnificent new album, we looked back at her discography to spotlight the songs that demarcate the project’s mounting achievements. Across two EPs, seven LPs and a smattering of singles, Weyes Blood’s evolution is stark, but at no point does she falter: Whether in noise, pop or folk, every Weyes Blood song is an achievement. That said, these 10 stick out.
Before Mering crafted haunting, gorgeous folk and baroque pop under the Weyes Blood moniker, she experimented with harsh noise under the name Weyes Bluhd. On 2007’s Strange Chalices of Seeing, 2008’s Evacuating Zombie Milk and more, Mering is daring and freaky. While these records are not for the faint of heart, they are cathartic, strangely beautiful projects. “Liquor Castle” is the standout song from the Weyes Bluhd era, merging her initial impulse for elongated harshness into a poetic, barely scrutable performance. Beginning with a feedback-heavy piercing moan that threatens never to leave, “Liquor Castle” features a striking performance on the harmonics guitar, one of Glenn Branca’s more mutant inventions. Mering closes the song with a chant, foreboding her subsequent gothic-folk endeavors.
Weyes Blood’s Mexican Summer debut, The Innocents, was at the time her most accessible release, but its unwavering gloom and disparate sonic influences make it a fitfully challenging listen. She leaned into baroque folk with Celtic overtones and tinctures of noise, never permitting a moment’s comfort to last for too long before jolting the listener to startled attention. The tape hiss undergirding “Bad Magic” gives the track a fuzzy texture while Mering gently picks an arpeggiating canon. Her lyrics are bleak, beginning with, “Get out of bed / Put on some clothes / And find your shoes / At least there’s nothing more / You could really lose, now is there?” She lets her voice break gently as she enters the chorus, betraying her humanity and inviting the collective mourning of whatever plagues us.
Several of the best Weyes Blood songs feature little to no percussion whatsoever, letting Mering’s soaring vocals lead the way, rather than yield moments of emotional resonance to the strictures of tempo. At nearly eight minutes, “Take You There” is nakedly devotional. To listen to “Take You There” feels like eavesdropping on the rehearsal for a pageant in the halls of a medieval cathedral. The droning organ and Weyes Blood’s meandering voice are a divine match. Mering’s lyrics feel like an anchorite’s reformulation of Madonna masterpiece “Like a Prayer”: “You take me there / I’m so scared / You make me shine / I just can’t hide / I want you to try / To take me there.” As with Madonna, Weyes Blood’s relationship with the church is complicated, and the legacy of her Christian upbringing remains latent throughout her discography.
The seven of wands tarot card depicts a figure atop a tall hill, fending off attackers charging up at them. In the upright position, the card recognizes the struggles of its subject, encouraging the subject to hold their ground. This can mean setting boundaries and facing threats head-on. “Seven of Wands” is the final track on the Northern Spy-released Angels in America / Weyes Blood split EP. The Weyes Blood section is heavy on experimentation. For “Seven of Wands,” Mering reverses the vocals from a previous track, “Names of Stars,” into something reminiscent of the demonic incantations that allies of Tipper Gore swore could be heard when rewinding popular music. To call it unsettling is an understatement, and to call it transfixing would be even more fitting.
By the late 2010s, Mering embraced chamber pop as Weyes Blood, finding this lustrous, connective style conducive to the messages she wanted to broadcast. “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” is one of her finest, not just in style but in message, as well. Art that tries to critique the modern condition and our changing relationship with each other often places the smartphone in the line of fire, leading to increasingly facile critique that boils down to “Phones Bad.” But in the poignant and campy video for “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody,” Mering is astute, humorous and self-aware. Sure, the smartphone is evil, but we’re all acting in concert with it. The song itself is lush, cinematic and instantly memorable, with Mering’s voice projecting gentle power over a lush orchestra featuring winds, strings, a harp and the piano.
On her sole release as Weyes Blood and The Dark Juices, 2011’s The Outside Room, Mering’s music is at its most atmospheric. Psychedelic folk and dark ambient join forces on an album whose lengthy, lo-fi, sometimes harsh songs each possess the denouement of a full symphonic movement. At nearly 10 minutes, “Candyboy” is a sonic mystery. Mering sings the obtuse lyrics with dread, her vocals hanging low beneath a suite of percussion that makes it sound as if she and her organ are performing in a blacksmith’s dungeon. The waltzing guitar track keeps the song chained to Earth, but interjections of noise and improvisation on the organ keep it dreamy and otherworldly.
On 2016’s Front Row Seat to Earth, Weyes Blood continued to gesture to past stylistic generations, but instead of early music as on The Innocents and The Outside Room, she harkens back to the late ’60s and ’70s’ lush psychedelic folk and its overflowing emotional sincerity. Nowhere is that more striking than on “Seven Words,” a lovelorn ballad dedicated to the final, desperation-laden communications of a fading relationship. Words said and unsaid churn in Mering’s head while arpeggiating guitars and metronomic percussion guide the soaring harmonies and sonorous keys.
While the concept of feeling like a main character in an indie movie has become something of a cloying meme, Mering showed no concern for sounding cheesy when she released “Movies,” declaring: “This is how it feels to fall in love.” We should be so lucky. “Movies” is a sprawling opus, with Mering’s voice layered in perfect harmonies over undulating synthesizers. Again, “Movies” largely forgoes percussion, and while the underlying synths suggest a tempo, Mering’s voice sounds as if guided by utter entropy. The tension between her voice and the synths explodes halfway through and strings take the lead. Thumping percussion enters and forces the song forward, creating a sense of aural tunnel vision, and the song somehow expands in size well beyond its original scope. Its grandiosity made it instantly resonant; while “Andromeda” has ascended to be the top-streamed Weyes Blood track, “Movies” was the early fan favorite off Titanic Rising.
In the famous myth, Andromeda is King Cepheus’ dazzling daughter, whose fate is jeopardized when her boastful family offends Poseidon and the sea nymphs. When she’s due to be sacrificed, Perseus swoops in, head over heels for Andromeda, and massacres the monster who promises to kill her. Under the shadow of divine resignation, Perseus’ love for Andromeda begot an unfathomable chain of events. But to Mering, love is complicated. For 2019’s Titanic Rising, Weyes Blood embraced the sugary sensations of baroque pop, creating her most clearly beautiful and relatable music without sacrificing one iota of experimentalism. With its familiar structure and ’80s-style percussion, “Andromeda” clicked with audiences quickly, attracting hordes of new fans enthralled by Mering’s wistful voice. Mering’s lyrics chart the all-too-familiar experience of being scared to love after too much hurt. In the first iteration of the chorus, Mering rejects advances: “Stop calling / It’s time to let me be / If you think you can save me / I dare you to try.” However, the sirenic call to love proves too great when the chorus returns: “Love is calling / It’s time to let it through / Find a love that will make you / I dare you to try.” Just maybe, if you let love in, you’ll find someone who’ll slay a sea monster for you.
Colloquially, the myth of Narcissus is understood as a testament to the trappings of vanity. Narcissism, aside from being an official personality disorder, is considered a moral failure wrought by unabashed selfishness, reinforced by none other than smartphones and social media. Mering agrees, elaborating: “Culturally and societally, we are in an age of narcissism.” But on “God Turn Me Into a Flower,” she reveals that the myth is much more tragic: “It always takes me / It’s such a curse to be so hard / You shatter easily / And can’t pick up all those shards / It’s the curse of losing yourself / When the mirror takes you too far.” Narcissus wasn’t simply obsessed with his beauty; he felt fundamentally disconnected from his reflection and yearned for it to be true. That fatal attraction wrought his downfall, but he is reborn as a flower: beautiful, yes, but more importantly, adaptable. Flowers appear delicate, but generations of flowers have achieved their secret hardiness through malleability. They can’t fight back, but they can work within.
Musically, “God Turn Me Into a Flower’’ is sublime. Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) joins Mering on the synths, wielding them more like a modest church organ than a tool for frenzied experiments. Mering’s incantations ache with empathetic devastation, bearing witness to the conundrum of want in an era when pursuit of and for the self is essential for financial survival. When her words have uttered all that they can, she hums sweet melodies while synths, warbling birds and an “ocean of cellos,” courtesy of mother-son duo Claudia and Ben Babbitt, ululate with striking balance. To call the composition moving is the understatement of the season. “God Turn Me Into a Flower” betrays layers of desolation and possibility, daring the listener to embrace either flexibility or fatality. It is daunting to pick up the shattered pieces of yourself after the song evaporates. It is Weyes Blood’s best work.
Devon Chodzin is a critic and urban planner with bylines at Slumber Mag, Merry-Go-Round and Post-Trash. He is currently a student in Philadelphia. He lives on Twitter @bigugly
Revisit Weyes Blood’s 2015 Daytrotter session below.