Read enough music reviews, and you’ll find the same words over and over again. These phrases, like “ethereal,” “transcendent,” “otherworldly”—what do they mean? They want to transport a reader in some way, the same way a song can take you out of your daily grind and bring you into a universe of its own for three to five minutes. Overuse may have rendered these descriptions cliche, but you’d be hard-pressed to find others to describe the sound of Weyes Blood on her new album, And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow.
Hearts Aglow is Natalie Mering’s fifth go-round as Weyes Blood, and her second as part of a trilogy focused on the panic of modern life. The first album, 2019’s Titanic Rising, she said in a recent NME interview, was “an observation, sounding the alarms that shit is going to go down.” Hearts Aglow describes how “all the shit went down: this is my personal response to being in the thick of it.”
It’s fully possible to listen to a Weyes Blood record without understanding a thing she’s saying on the first go-round. Mering’s voice, which has been compared to Carole King and Joni Mitchell, really is that transportive. The sounds of Hearts Aglow help in that regard, with Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin on keyboards and vintage-sound extraordinaire Jonathan Rado producing. There’s a classic singer-songwriter sound, mixed with a psychedelic lift that comes with every vocal shift.
But it’d be a mistake to miss what she’s actually singing about. “Living in the wake of overwhelming changes / We’ve all become strangers / Even to ourselves,” she sings on the opening track, “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody.” “Mercy is the only cure for being so lonely,” she says, on the same song! It’s solid advice, and speaks to the album’s overall themes. Her personal response is to find a way out of this chaos, hopefully with love.
That doesn’t mean Mering ignores the root of the problems: “We tend to live long, that’s why so many things go wrong,” she says on the album’s second track, the standout “Children of the Empire.” Starting with a simple guitar and Mering’s voice, the song is as close to a version of the Laurel Canyon-style which so clearly influences Mering. There’s wonderfully addictive finger-snapping, background flourishes, and Mering’s declaration that “we don’t have time anymore to be afraid.”
Hearts Aglow also has anti-tech sheen to it, made clear on “Grapevine,” an anti-ode to Southern California’s infamous traffic, specifically on a stretch of Interstate 5. “Six hours on the Grapevine / And I feel kidnapped this time,” is a familiar feeling to anyone who has been in LA traffic. She wants to “go back to the camp / with the kerosene lamps in the woods,” remembering “when you were mine / and I was yours for а time.”
This is where words like ethereal come in, with Weyes Blood conjuring up the magic in the temporary, the fleeting. It’s that time of the year where families often gather in temporary recreations of their past lives as well, which makes Hearts Aglow feel especially fitting. It may not be the album to dance around the kitchen with, but if you’re looking for an escape from the holiday season, a chance to be transported to anywhere but where you are, Hearts Aglow is waiting for you.
David Meir Grossman is a writer living in Brooklyn. His Twitter feed is @davidgross_man.