According to Natalie Mering – who makes music as Weyes Blood – the heart is like a glowstick. “You crack it and it glows,” she told The Guardian last month while reflecting on the saintly sleeve of ‘And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow’. “It’s about the power of having your heart so broken that it would emanate a light.”
The LA-based artist, who played in a series of underground noise bands before releasing her solo debut in 2011, says her fifth album is the second part of a musical triptych. 2019’s breakthrough ‘Titanic Rising’ formed the first panel: a grandly wrought forecasting of all-encompassing doom, it was filled with sprawling orchestral arrangements and painful, beautiful songs about the impending crumbling-down of life as we knew it then. Though Mering could hardly have foreseen the life-altering events that would unfold the following year – a pandemic which exposed and deepened the already-festering wounds of inequality – the record’s eerie prescience drew from a hellish landscape of fallen trees and surging floods. “Everyone’s broken now and no one knows just how,” she sang on ‘Wild Time’, a stand-out track that recalled the classic songwriting of Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’ and Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’.
Drawing on that similar songwriting palette and bright, uneasy chamber pop, ‘And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow’ finds itself in the eye of a whirling tornado; the isolation that its predecessor predicted now fully upon us. Just as sunsets become infinitely more beautiful when they’re pumped full of sun-refracting pollutants, Mering’s own vision of the end of the world is intricately woven and rich with melody, even as loneliness aches at the core. “Mercy is the only cure for being so lonely,” she sings on opener ‘It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody’, a tender and sad ode to shared sorrow. ”Has a time ever been more revealing that the people are hurting?” Here, the world does not fall explosively to pieces under a billowing mushroom cloud or wayward meteor; its disintegration is subtler and harder to detect as we all drift steadily apart. As in Skeeter Davis’ 1962 country-pop classic ‘The End Of The World’ or Matt Maltese’s more contemporary epic ‘As the World Caves In’, for Mering the real beauty of the world comes from the people who love each other within it. When these connections are broken apart, the real end times begin.
Written while Mering was locked down in LA with her dog Luigi, ‘And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow’ deftly avoids touching on the pandemic directly with clumsy references that would rapidly date. Instead, a vaguer, more ominous sense of isolation casts a shadow over the whole record, though the ache of loss is quickly met by an urgent longing for togetherness. Mering’s apparent take on heartbreak seems to be quietly optimistic: a broken heart being a symbol that somebody was vulnerable enough, bold enough, brave enough to open themselves to pain in the first place.
On both the opening track’s exploration of collective pain and the twinkling centrepiece ‘Hearts Aglow’, the bonds that do remain offer a flicker of hope. “It’s been a death march, the whole world is crumbling,” Mering sings on the latter, a swooning, ‘70s-flecked number. “Oh baby, let’s dance in the sand”. She also examines where this hunger to find meaning through others stems from in the first place: “We look everywhere but in ourselves for a salve,” Mering explains in a letter written to accompany the record.
‘And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow’ raises more questions than solutions, but the nearest thing to an answer possibly lies in the spellbinding ‘God Turn Me Into A Flower’. Here, Mering retells the myth of Narcissus – a Greek hunter who falls in love with his own reflection – and gently touches upon themes of technology and online individualism in the process. “You see the reflection, you want it more than the truth… but the person on the other side has always just been you,” she sings. After a lifetime of staring at his rippling likeness, Narcissus transforms into a bright yellow daffodil swaying in the breeze, slowly spinning to face the sun. By being pliable, open and more tender, Mering seems to suggest, perhaps we can save ourselves from the doom that this stunning record finds itself gripped within.
Release date: November 18, 2022
Record label: Sub Pop