Natalie Mering knows that the world is ending, but she’s going to keep on searching for and sharing love anyway. Through her work as Weyes Blood, she has reported on her quest through the malaise of the modern world, bringing levity to the scenes she paints but never shying away from harsh realities. Her new album, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, comes after humanity has been through the strangest and arguably darkest years of its existence – yet her hope still shines bright as her search for personal peace trundles on.
“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,” she sings as the opening lines of the album, her voice and honesty setting us in place beside her, wishing we could reply “I feel you”. This opener, “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody”, is the mission statement for Hearts Aglow: acknowledging that personal pain and disappointment has a frequency that we all buzz at sometimes, and that, ironically, being surrounded by people can be just as isolating as being cut off from everyone. “Mercy is the only cure for being so lonely” she intones later in the song, and that’s what she sets out to deliver across the record.
Second track “Children of the Empire” is a piano-led stormer that finds Mering delivering an address to her generation, telling us that she accepts that it’s difficult living today but simultaneously points out it’s a mess of our own making. The dissonance between desiring to escape and admitting culpability fuels the track as it bounds forward with Beach Boys “bah bah bah”s, growing in energy with each circle back to the finger-snapping chorus, instantly becoming her most boisterous anthem to date.
She again addresses the heartsick population at large on “Hearts Aglow”, but inverts the tone to something intimate and soothing. Burbling organ keys softly sigh beneath her words, which seem beamed directly from our communal heart as she laments “‘Cause it’s been a death march / The whole world is crumbling.” Despite facing the darkness head-on, Mering’s voice and melodic nous pierces through this gloom; she looks for someone to dance with, to kickstart her life with, to sit “up on the ferris wheel at night” with. As ever, she extracts harmony from chaos and takes her listeners on that transformative journey with her.
Across the majority of Hearts Aglow, Mering delivers reflections on her personal turmoil, but often has a compelling knack of zooming out to place them in the context of the bigger picture. “Grapevine” is a break-up song that takes that nugget of pain and transforms it into a grandiose but empathetic reflection on the state of the world and the disconnection of humanity. It’s packed with apocalyptic undertones (“California’s my body / And your fire runs over me”) that are emphasised by resounding tubular bells, eerie synth lines and an echoing atmosphere.
“Twin Flame”, another heartbreaker, ditches the guitar and strings in favour of drum machine and organ, and in this intimate atmosphere Mering lets her guard down a little more. The minimal arrangement leaves space for her inner feelings to breathe, leading her to veer from poignant truths (“‘Cause we are more than our disguises / We are more than just the pain”) to sheer sadness (“And I’m standing here just callin’ out your name”). As a guitar lick curls its way through the atmosphere, an undeniable groove flavours the melancholy, hinting at the desire and passion that still resides in the singer.
The most stunning departure is “God Turn Me Into A Flower”, a six-minute meditation on existence underscored by subtle but sparkling synth from Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never). Having renounced her Christian upbringing in her teens, Mering has recently edged towards Buddhism, and this is the clearest culmination of her learnings. She takes stock of her energy and form in the world, determining “it’s good to be soft when they push you down” and ultimately desiring to be turned into – or reincarnated as – a flower, so that she can be a simpler and purer presence. As well as being lyrically impressive, the slight instrumental backing provokes Mering to inject more passion into her vocal, so we feel the weight of every word in her request. She guides the song through its drifting second half with wordless vocals that intertwine with the synth, and there is an overwhelming elegance to the whole affair that transcends words and intention.
While Hearts Aglow will continue to draw lines between her and classic American songwriters, Mering now has a catalogue that proves she has outgrown those comparisons. Her storytelling eye is sharp and her ear is honed to bring the most out of it melodically and instrumentally (with a tipped hat to Jonathan Rado’s excellent production). Her emotional scope can range broadly and deeply, but the core of Mering’s work will always be the “love everlasting that flows out of you”, as she sings on the closing “A Given Thing”. However, it’s not enough for her to just observe this; she needs to honour the weight of this burden, to find every crack it flows into and to investigate every complication it may yield. In that way, she is a torch bearer for our times.