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REVIEW: Weyes Blood – ‘Titanic Rising’ (Sub Pop)


In a sentence:

Natalie Mering’s fourth Weyes Blood album ‘Titanic Rising’ is a significant leap forwards, an exercise in the application of nostalgic influences to create something thrilling, moving and contemporary.

Nostalgia comes in two songwriting forms: comforting, and immediately off-putting. There is a special craft dedicated to walking the line between needless reference that equates to flaunting your parents’ record collection and standing on the shoulders of giants to look on further, beyond the immediate. On her latest Weyes Blood album Titanic Rising, Natalie Mering isn’t interested in trading nostalgia currencies with people “born in the wrong era”. Throughout the album, Mering effortlessly and intuitively dips in and out of a seemingly endless canon of late ‘60s and ‘70s songwriters and musicians for influences. Crucially, she only takes what works, what has potential for recontextualisation, and, sometimes, what might otherwise be forgotten, to construct a well-crafted, atmosphere-heavy statement about the search for meaning in the modern era.

The opening track ‘A Lot’s Gonna Change’ sets a precedent that is pretty much followed through the rest of Titanic Rising. A somewhat sinister synthesizer and organs introduce us to a perpetual, almost soothing melancholy, twinged with foreboding. They slowly coalesce, building tension, only to abruptly make way for a piano ballad, in which Mering wistfully sings of a time long-past, one of innocence and childish naiveté. It would be all too easy to get caught up in self-pity and a general disdain for anything resembling modernity in such a narrative, blaming society or capitalism or whatever else. And sure enough, there’s blame to go around, Mering not shying away from the harsh truths of life in some of the less lyrical moments on the record.

However, finger-pointing is far from the focus of Titanic Rising. It is more the backdrop of a near-biblical apocalypse, in front of which faith is continuously lost and found again, agency is asserted in the form of fantasy and advice emphatically given to the ones still in search. Strings swell as Mering sings “If your friends and your family / Sadly don’t stick around / It’s high time you’ll learn to get by”, and it’s one of those genuine epiphanies delivered without being condescending, from a perspective only time and enduring loss can provide. Belief is key, as the artist reasserts later on ‘Something To Believe’. A sentiment as empowering as it is difficult to maintain as we progress further into the 21st century.

Music video for ‘Everyday’

It would not be an album with themes of loneliness and modernity in 2018/2019 if it did not inexplicably tap into some apparently held public sub-consciousness of The Cowboy imagery. Not unlike Mitski before her, Weyes Blood subtly hints at equating the process of navigating the confusing landscape of urban love to the desolate fields and prairies of the spaghetti western. “True love is making a comeback / For only half of us, the rest just feel bad / Doomed to wander in the world’s first rodeo”. Acoustic guitars, marching drums, and Pet Sounds-esque backing vocals accompany the listener on an emotional journey of embracing the wild wild west of romance on ‘Everyday’.

There’s something to be said about the relatability and collective embrace of the lone, brooding protagonist, who made the unyielding landscapes and unforeseeable circumstances his home, as well as an area for the showcase of kickass gunslinger competence. Often with shadows of an easier past life still clear in their eyes as they look into the sunset. There is a potential for reassurance and reaffirmation there for anyone wandering through the often unforgiving realities of late-stage capitalism. There’s a display of survival and agency in something that’s chaotic and desolate at the same time. “Beauty, a machine that’s broken / Running on a million people trying / Don’t cry, it’s a wild time to be alive”, Mering reassures.

In relation, on what is possibly the most meta moment on the album, Weyes Blood speaks of being the star of her own motion picture, of living out the fantasy on our screens. A highlight on the album, ‘Movies’ is also arguably the most immediately modern-sounding track on Titanic Rising. An arpeggiated, claustrophobic-sounding synthesizer accompanies the track in its entirety, while Mering sings in true, melancholic, undiluted Lana Del Rey fashion about loving the movies, backed by cinematically orchestrated strings, and church-choir backing vocals. More than halfway in to this six-minute track, it breaks down to give way to some of the most satisfyingly dramatic string recordings in recent memory, at least when considering the output of contemporary commercial artists. It is this penchant for combining the familiar with the unexpected and dramatic that makes Titanic Rising and Weyes Blood stand out in the sea of artists trying to emulate the idealised songcraft of the greats.

Music video for ‘Andromeda’

Titanic Rising is Weyes Blood’s most ambitious work yet. Full of luscious instrumentation, brightly produced yet dark at their core vocals, as delivered by Mering, and lamentations of the modern times that refrain from ending in complete nihilism. The album, in line with The Human Experience, is not positive throughout. It is not doubtless and self-assured. It does remain hopeful, however. What else is there to do besides curl up and wait for the end? Enjoy it, if you get to listen to someone display complete competence at their craft while it happens. (8/10) (Ellie Wolf)

Listen to Titanic Rising by Weyes Blood here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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