Weyes Blood, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow ★★★★★
Natalie Mering, who goes by the name Weyes Blood, laments that “we have all become strangers, even to ourselves” on the opening track of her beautiful new album, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow – a woozy daydream from a hauntingly romantic balladeer whose music offers comfort to the loneliest souls.
At 34, with songs about solitude, the natural world, the power and fragility of women and how technology has shaped modern romance, Mering become a critical darling with a cult following. Sitting somewhere between Joan Baez’s 70s social justice-fuelled folk and Olivia Newton-John’s hyper-feminine 80s pop, Mering’s exquisite, timeless voice and hymnal harmonies hold a nostalgic appeal that unites the Spotify generation and their parents alike. She describes herself as a “nostalgic futurist”.
Mering grew up within a staunchly Pentecostal Christian family in Santa Monica and began making music as a teen – adopting the moniker Wise Blood in reference to Flannery O’Connor’s 1952 collection of stories. She may not have observed the strict morality of her God-fearing parents, both musicians, but her voice and compositions pay homage to the songs she heard in childhood: gospel and hymnal paeans.
Since then, Mering’s compositions have leaned into glorious baroque madrigals, tenderly layering melodies and harmonies as if she were adorning a human body with pearls, coats and scarves.
In the Darkness, Heart Aglow is Mering’s fifth album, and the second in a trilogy dedicated to the fallout from climate change (beginning with 2019 album Titanic Rising). Her lyrics pine for the natural world, with Mering believing that our collective destruction of forests, land and sources of water have fostered division and alienation. Titanic Rising was met with rave reviews, but this record – which spans steely indie-rock and strummed country ballads – might just be her magnum opus.
On the epic, multi-layered harmonies of Children of the Empire, she reimagines a Beach Boys/Shangri Las doo-wop fantasy that is gorgeous when it could have so easily become overwrought. The luscious orchestral compositions (tuba, sax, organ, multiple violins and cellos), riddled with brief interludes of manic keyboards, stormy strings and thundering piano chords, build empires and shatter them within minutes.
Titanic Rising addressed the transient beauty of nature, doomed to human sabotage. It troubles her still, and there is an existential fear and surrender within her lyrics, clear on the ambient beauty of God Turn Me Into a Flower, which puts Mering’s angelic voice under the spotlight.
The song examines how our desire to appear as the flawless creature we curate on social media fights a higher power. What if, in our imperfect present, we are exactly as God intended us? “You see the reflection/ And you want it more than the truth/ You yearn to be that dream you could never get to,” Mering sings. “Cause the person on the other side has always just been you/ Oh, God, turn me into a flower”. Like our planet, this album is a rare thing of wonder. Cat Woods