Mering’s soaring vocals and diaristic lyrics anchor the music in the here.
Weyes Blood, the nom d’art of 30-year-old Natalie Mering, has yielded three album, not counting her self-released 2011 debut. Her latest release and her first on Sub Pop, Titanic Rising is her most accomplished work yet. Building on the strengths of her previous releases while expanding her palette even further, this work, vividly titled as if raising a legendary shipwreck, gives a broad picture of Weyes Blood’s potential.
The group’s earlier albums featured a more pronounced folk influence and a greater engagement with Mering’s experimental roots. Over time, the sound has grown more taut, and more structured, with losing the immediacy of Mering’s vocals and the searching character of her musings. In other words, less idiosyncratic Vashti Bunyan and more pop-friendly Carole King, and a more sweeping, cinematic style that does away with some of the more recherché qualities of Titanic Rising’s predecessors.
The grand style her suggests a contemporary recasting of such ‘70s pop sophisticates as Harry Nilsson, Laura Nyro or Joni Mitchell, or more recent songwriters who pay homage to the era like Father John Misty or Andy Shauf. But Weyes Blood is far from derivative—on the contrary, the group’s influences are folded into a mesmerizing style that is all its own.
Several songs—“Everyday,” in particular—sound like they could easily be lost chestnuts from the pop annals, with tight changes and impeccable arrangements. The whole album has a warm and satisfying production, with rich piano chords, Beatlesque basslines, crisp drums and tasteful strings supplementing the album’s emotive heft. But it does not sound dated, in no small part thanks to Mering’s vocal delivery and the casual sophistication of her lyrics.
The word here is not “ornate,” since that suggests artifice for its own sake. Rather, the emotional architecture of Weyes Blood’s music is both intimate and monumental, plumbing interior depths in the same movement as it expands outward with a lush sonic embrace. One of the album’s most arresting songs, “Movies,” marries Philip Glass-like strings with beating percussion and perhaps Mering’s most impassioned, pleading vocal take—“I wanna be in my own movie,” she sings, “I wanna be the star of my own, my own.” Confession turns to confrontation on the track that follows, “Mirror Forever,” which starts with one of the album’s most memorable lines—“No one’s ever gonna give you a trophy/ For all the pain and things you’ve been through”—before turning to its double-edged refrain addressed to a former lover, “I’ll see you around/ The next time you come to town.”
Elsewhere, stand-outs include the Bacharach-like lament “Picture Me Better,” featuring maudlin strings and soft acoustic strumming, and the folk-rock “Something to Believe,” with its plea for transcendence—“And at night 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.”
All told, the album has remarkable cohesion and restraint, while also feeling bare and uncompromising. Weyes Blood shows that it is a band equally at home in the analogue world as it is in the digital, capable of creating a song that veers toward a kind of indie-electronica right after it has dropped a Brill Building-worthy earworm. In either mode, Mering’s soaring vocals and diaristic lyrics anchor the music in the here-and-now while preserving for itself a timeless quality that makes Titanic Rising one of the best albums of 2019 so far.