by Alberto Calderon
In a time when most artists are obsessed with brand identity and quickly gaining notoriety, Natalie Mering—who records as Weyes Blood—has been content to do her thing and let the public slowly catch up. After her third album Front Row Seat to Earth, many critics thought that Mering was one of the young pop talents with the most promise, her fourth album Titanic Rising, is the fulfillment of those expectations. With her previous releases Mering had developed a signature pop-folkish sound reminiscent of the Laurel Canyon 70’s productions, but her new collaboration with producer Jonathan Rado helps Titanic Rising achieve a whole new psychedelic and layered orchestral sound that congeals nicely with Mering’s soulful lyrics.
There is a loose thematic structure to Titanic Rising. In the first half of the album the songs paint a picture of someone who is fatigued by their inability to find love on their own terms. As the loopy synths swell on the celestial ballad “Andromeda” Mering references her “heart that is lazy” before admitting, “Love is calling / More than anything I can think of / I’m ready to try.” There is a world-weary tone that infuses all of her references to love, like an old soul who was born in the wrong era. Later in the song she laments, “Getting tired of looking.”
Her conversational lyrics allow you to feel her anxiety and indecision when it comes to her romantic disappointments. In “Everyday,” a light romp reminiscent of a toned down Beach Boys song, she sings, “Got a lot of years of bad love to make ok,” before reconsidering, “Then again, it might just be me.” Finally letting herself off the hook, “Then again, love’s not easy.” She is a patient storyteller, in no rush to get to some catchy chorus, a sign of a songwriter in complete control of their craft. By not larding up her message with irony or sarcasm her startlingly straightforward lyrics leave you no choice but to face them head-on. Mering is not interested in being clever, she is interested in connecting through her music in a way she can’t seem to do in life.
After the titular fifth track, a palate cleansing minute and a half musical interlude, the album turns its sharp eye toward the problems of modernity. “Some people watch until they explode / The meaning of life doesn’t seem to shine like that screen.” Mering incants in the standout ethereal track “Movies”. The flurry of the arpeggiated synth in “Movies” creates a nice contrast for the powerfully steady voice of Mering, one of the more bold and rewarding arrangements on an album full of them. As Mering takes aim at certain existential anxieties (the environment and technology) she manages to never stray too far from hopefulness. Even in the decidedly darker “Wildtime,” where she sings, “Our life a feeling that’s moving / Running on a million people burning,” she ends the song on a surprisingly chirpy note, “It’s a wild time to be alive.”
Titanic Rising is not a perfect album, it can be a heavy listen. On the album cover, Mering is fittingly in her bedroom submerged underwater, it can be good to come up for air and take a break in between tracks. The heaviness is offset by its scant forty-minute run time. Whatever the albums’ shortcomings the ambition behind it more than compensates. Her sound and message are not something you can easily get your hands around. Mering embraces contradiction, referring to herself as a “nostalgic futurist.” At the end of the opening song, “A Lot’s Gonna Change,” Mering ends by singing, “Try to leave it all behind.” Thankfully her age and talent point to the idea that her best work is still ahead of her.