Natalie Mering is in a lane all in her own. No one else is turning out the kind of transcendent chamber pop that Mering does, recording as Weyes Blood. Her high, pure voice calls to mind ’70s icons like Joni Mitchell, Karen Carpenter and Carly Simon. Her retro arrangements also harken back to the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter era.
Her new album, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, is much-anticipated, especially by those who fell for her out-of-time sound on 2019’s Titantic Rising. Hearts Aglow was coproduced by Mering and Jonathan Rado of Foxygen. Together, they created a sound that’s at once nostalgic and contemporary.
“It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” starts the album with a grandiose sound but a simple sentiment: that people are lonely and hurting. “Sitting at this party/ Wondering if anyone knows me/ Really sees who I am/ Oh it’s been so long since I felt really known,” Mering sings.
The isolation of lockdowns and the self-imposed exile of staring at our phones rather than talking to each other has weighed heavily on Mering, if the lyrics on this album are any indication.
“Children of the Empire” begins with simple piano notes and a voice, much like a Carole King song, before bursting into full-on Brian-Wilson-esque orchestration, including cello, tuba and trombone. Mary Lattimore plays harp on these first few songs, and her playing brings a shimmering otherworldly perfection to the music.
On “Grapevine,” a slow, lullaby-like song about driving that mountainous section of I-5, Mering sings about a relationship that’s ended. “Never really got to say goodbye and/ It hits me for the first time/ Now we’re just two cars passing by/ On the Grapevine,” she sings. Her voice soars on the chorus, suffused with longing and regret, as she wishes she could go back to “When you were mine/ And I was yours for a time.”
Mering’s voice starts out quiet on “God Turn Me Into a Flower,” over spacey synths. “It’s good to be soft/ When they push you down,” she sings, then, after the chorus: “It’s such a curse to be so hard/ You shatter easily.” For the second half of the song, wordless singing swells over the synths and evocative samples of birds chirping.
Mering reaches perhaps her most Joni-Mitchell-esque on “Hearts Aglow” when she sings, “I’ve been without friends/ Oh I’ve just been working/ For years and I stopped having fun.” She sounds lighter and happier on this song than any other on the album. While despair is always present, she still holds out hope: “The whole world is crumbling/ Oh baby let’s dance in the sand/ ‘Cause I’ve been waiting for my life to begin/ For someone/ To light up my heart again.”
The rest of the album has a decidedly subdued sound. “We are more than our disguises/ We are more than just the pain,” Mering sings sings on “Twin Flame,” over just an artificial beat, organ and guitar. She tells a lover that he’s her “twin flame,” but perhaps it’s too late for this declaration. “Did I do something to wreck it all?” she asks; then, in the chorus: “You got me so cold/ When you pull away.”
“In Holy Flux” is an ambient soundscape that sets up a transition to the song on which Mering is most direct about how she thinks lockdowns affected us all. “The Worst is Done” features laidback, country guitar playing, giving the song a Linda Ronstadt feel, but with a cosmic synth playing underneath.
“They say the worst is done/ And it’s time to go out/ And see everyone … But I think it’s only just begun/ I hear it from everyone/ We’re all so cracked,” she sings, before second-guessing herself and her choices: “I shouldn’t have stayed/ In my little place/ In the world’s loneliest city/ We’re not meant to be/ Our own angels all the time.”
The album ends on “A Given Thing,” the only song coproduced by Rodaidh McDonald (The xx, Sampha). It’s a simple number with Mering accompanying herself on piano and a ghostly sounding synth, playing on the word “given:” “It’s not something you gotta earn/ From each other/ It just comes naturally/ It’s there for the taking/ It’s a given thing/ Our love everlasting.”
And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow weaves a spell around listeners like a cocoon. It’s a triumph that will doubtless make Weyes Blood a bigger name.