Natalie Mering, the sweet-voiced powerhouse behind Weyes Blood, recently revealed that her new album And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow is the second part of a trilogy that began with 2019’s epic release Titanic Rising. Like that critically acclaimed album, this new work sees her continue to focus on ‘70s sounds and lush arrangements, on an album that is as easy on the ear as it is delicately unnerving. Collaborating again with co-producer Jonathan Rado, Mering’s new music is rich in orchestration and lush romanticism, expertly cocooning her crystalline, distinctive vocal.
Where Titanic Rising explored the idea of impending disaster, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow swims in a sea of instability, anxiety and communal unknowing. “We’ve all become strangers/Even to ourselves,” she sings on album opener ‘It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody’, whose lush soft rock sensibilities and luminous harp arpeggios belies an underlying sense of gloom. The isolation and self-imposed exile of lockdown weighs heavily on these songs as Mering contemplates loneliness and disconnection. The baroque almost festive feel of ‘Children of the Empire’ has a jaunty vibe, all finger-clicks and sleigh bells even as Mering sings, “we’re all lost”.
The gospel-tinged ‘Hearts Aglow’ is the centrepiece of the album and one of the standout tracks, cleverly leaning into her trademark chamber pop sound. The song marks a change in focus and the final third of the album presents a more playful set of songs. ‘Twin Flame’ comes from left field, built as it is from 80s synth sounds and sounding like a love child of Pat Benetar and Julee Cruise. ‘In Holy Flux’ is a short Eno-esque soundscape of layered vocals and droning sounds while penultimate track ‘The Worst is Done’ has an upbeat country rock vibe that is pure Laurel Canyon, but the lyrics warn that “it’s time to find out what we’ve all become”.
Gorgeous closing track ‘A Given Thing’ see Mering at the piano, fighting against the darkness with a simple song of hope, which homes in on her lush layered vocals calling to mind the late Judee Sill. In fact, the success of this new album is for the most part down to Mering’s enigmatic beautiful voice that melds the honeyed tones of Karen Carpenter with an ambiguous purity, which can verge from cynical to soaring in the course of the same song. Comparisons to other vocalists are easy to make with Mering, but her performance on ‘God Turn Me Into A Flower’ is literally breathtaking as her voice disintegrates and melds into a cacophony of bird song.
All of this lushness could easily become over-elaborate, yet for all the sumptuous beauty of her music, Mering never succumbs to insincerity. The dream-like nature of her cinematic vision and the skilful juxtaposition of the vintage and the contemporary makes for a convincing and commanding sound. And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow is another timeless classic from an artist who is forging her own sonic path.