Weyes Blood review – And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow: A beguiling blend of nostalgia and optimism

Written during the pandemic, the record plays out as a proggy prayer for humanity

Helen Brown
Thursday 17 November 2022 14:38 GMT
Natalie Mering: Let there be light
Natalie Mering: Let there be light (Neil Krug)

In recent interviews, Natalie Mering has invited us to picture our hearts as glow sticks, lighting up when broken. So her fifth album as Weyes Blood, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow (AITDHA), finds her addressing the unsettling state of the world with a beguiling blend of cosy nostalgia and cautious optimism.

If you're unfamiliar with the LA-based, 34-year-old artist, imagine those “occupants of interplanetary craft” had responded to Karen Carpenter’s call and beamed her aboard a slightly wonky flying saucer, powered by vintage synths. Her velvety vocals are so rich and warm that listening to her often feels like dipping your anxieties in melted chocolate. At times, she can pile her impeccably researched retro-gloop on a little thickly. But 2019’s Titanic Rising had a confidence and melodic complexity that lifted it beyond pastiche.

Written during the pandemic, AITDHA plays out as a proggy prayer for humanity. Mering’s musician parents are born-again Christians and she has long cited church music as a source of inspiration. Speaking to The Independent, she explained that although she is no longer religious, she still holds a “small interior space” for spirituality. This album, then, features songs with titles such as “God Turn Me Into a Flower” and “In Holy Flux” and references to pierced palms, angels and sins.

“Living in the wake of overwhelming changes/ We’ve all become strangers,” she laments over flute, harp and swaying piano of the opener “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody”. “Everyone’s sad/ They lost what they thought they had” she reassures her congregation over the gently jaunty strum’n’drum of “The Worst is Done”. The track’s groovy melody dials back into the trippy-hippy hopes and fears of the early Sixties, with sun-warped Beach Boys harmonies and bouncy “baaa-ba-baaa” backing vocals that are at once soothing and filled with denial.

There’s a good range of textures across the 10 tracks. “Children of the Empire” has echoes of The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers” in the melody that swells with tolling bells, handclaps and trombone. “Grapevine” is a duskier, dreamier country-folk affair, in which Mering warns of how a man can be an “emotional cowboy… he can block your sun all day, make you small/ He has the power to take his love away.” “God Turn Me Into a Flower” is a six-minute space-out, accessorised with a harpsichord and ending with a dawn chorus of electronic squarks and crackles.

“Hearts Aglow” offers more soft strings and layers of shoop-shoop vocals as Mering yearns for a baptismal reunion with a lost love: “I was so bored/ Take me to the water babe”. But the simple closer, “A Given Thing”, sees her relax, stop “screaming to be closer to infinity” and acknowledge herself as “good enough”. You can hear her leaning close to the keys of her piano as she lets phrases soar up the octave and swing back down. There’s a little electronic noodling going on to remind us that, though Mering sounds supremely grounded, a part of her is still in exiled orbit around a damaged world. It’s soulful, and a little spooky.

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