Natalie Mering released Titanic Rising, one of the best records of 2019, intending it to be the first album in a planned trilogy. By channeling her sunbaked Laurel Canyon soft rock predecessors like Karen Carpenter and Joni Mitchell, Mering warned of impending doom over the hypnotic baroque pop of a long-ago era.
Three years later, Mering appears to be a soothsayer after how the world has changed since Titanic Rising’s release. Its equally stunning follow-up, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, recognizes this and tells of the experiences of living in the thick of turbulent times. ‘It’s Not Me, It’s Everybody’ is a Buddhist anthem disguised as a melancholy ballad in which human connectivity frays and seclusion is a trend.
‘Children of the Empire’ is a resilient confrontation with hopelessness, with Mering singing, “We’re long gone, in that eternal flame, trying to break away, from the mess we made, Oh, we don’t have time anymore to be afraid.”
Meanwhile, ‘God Turn Me Into a Flower’ refurbishes the myth of Narcissus, fixating on one’s vanity when true happiness lies within ourselves, and is a haunting showcase for Mering’s vocals morphing into a symphony of strings and bird calls.
And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow and its predecessor are the audio equivalents of a rare rainy day in a bygone Los Angeles, with California playing its own character in the Weyes Blood catalog. On ‘Grapevine’, Mering reaches for pure Americana, referencing James Dean’s end on Highway 46 on the Central Coast while yearning for a connection with her “emotional cowboy”.
The refreshingly retro album-oriented rock sound is partially thanks to Jonathan Rado of Foxygen, who continues his prolific production run by once again staffing the boards with Mering. There’s no better example of Rado’s stamp than the album centerpiece, ‘Hearts Aglow’, which combines escapist lyrics and incredible vintage harmonies that transports the listener somewhere north of the Sunset Strip in the early 70s.
For the most part, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow is an excellent continuation of Titanic Rising, which is high praise when placed in the context of the latter’s excellence. As great a companion as it may be, Mering has new tricks up her sleeve on the new record. In particular, ‘Twin Flame’ is unlike anything Mering has written. It is more in line with No Jacket Required-era Phil Collins, with its successful marriage of acoustic drums and a drum machine that works as a new backbone in the Weyes Blood repertoire.
Throughout the record, Mering plays with nostalgia while staying entirely modern in theme, and it’s in this way that the album excels. Mering’s warm embrace sounds like a familiar tune we know from a long-gone era that belonged to our parents and grandparents. At the same time, the topical lyrics make the album wholly contemporary and a snapshot of a world in burning flux.
Even when Mering seems to find solace, like in ‘The Worst Is Done’, there’s understandable doubt when she’s reflecting upon the past few years. Contradicting the darkness is the record’s core, the message that the heart is a compass to guide through strange times.
As Mering moves into a new phase, she intends to fill the next Weyes Blood record with hope, but And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow is the record we all need now.