by Andrea Larez
Natalie Mering’s fifth studio album And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow is an ethereal musical piece of work that sits right in the eye of the hurricane. The album represents the second panel in what singer/songwriter Natalie Mering, better known as Weyes Blood, calls a “musical triptych,” which began with her 2019 LP Titanic Rising. While Titanic Rising hovers over impending doom, this follow-up record lies right amid the chaos. Gloom isn’t something to fear; it’s something to live through and admire.
Full of beautiful orchestral arrangements, lush production, and soaring vocals (reminiscent of Carole King and Joni Mitchell, some of Mering’s inspirations), this album makes for an out-of-body listening experience. The chamber and baroque pop influences are prevalent throughout the record; it is incredibly cohesive musically, but never derivative. Some of the songs span up to six minutes, yet the listener is kept engaged through the spellbinding production choices. Layers of vocal harmonies, fairy-tale-like strings, and swirling synths transport the listener into a dream-like simulation. Everything feels abundant, poetic, and intentional. Still, a place where this record falls short is the lack of melodic variety in certain songs, such as “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” and “Twin Flame.” The instrumentals and production choices make the track interesting, but if it were to be stripped back, some of the core elements of Mering’s usual stellar songwriting seem to be missing.
It is never explicitly mentioned, but the struggles and anxieties of the worldwide pandemic are a theme that stays constant throughout the record. Although Mering couldn’t have predicted what would happen when she started this trilogy, the feelings of uncertainty she explores throughout the work are all too familiar to what most people felt over the past two years. The intro track lets us in first: “Living in the wake of overwhelming changes / We’ve all become strangers.” In “The Worst is Done,” she tackles it head on, “It’s been a long, strange year / Everyone’s sad they lost what they / thought they had,” and expresses her anxieties about the future, “They say the worst is done / But I think the worst has yet to come now.” The tracks are layered with political commentary, a highlight being “Children of the Empire,” a reflection on how the climate crisis, caused by past mistakes, will cause the most harm to future generations: “We’re long gone / In that eternal flame / Trying to break away / From the mess we made.” Mering chooses to constantly use “We” as the primary plural pronoun, which gives the record a communal feel; the listener and artist are one in experiencing this emotional turmoil.
And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow feels like seeing the reflection of a diamond after digging through the entire mine. The record is one of the most original and cohesive pieces of work from this year, and it does an incredible job of shining some light amongst all the darkness. Mering sings from her experience alone, but she makes the rest of her audience feel a little less lonely.