WRITTEN BY: Jessica Gambino
A simple, yet thought-provoking statement from the opening track of Natalie Mering’s fourth album, Titanic Rising. The quote is quite fitting, as 30 year old Mering has certainly been through some changes herself within her 10+ year musical career. Mering originally got her start in the underground noise and experimental rock scene in the early 2000s playing in Portland-based band Jackie-O Motherfucker. In 2006 she went solo, with a couple of name changes before finally deciding on Weyes Blood. She’s been pretty busy ever since, performing across the country, studying herbalism, and working to develop her sound. Along the way, she released three albums and collaborated with artists including Drugdealer, Ariel Pink, Jerry Paper, and others.
On April 5th 2019, Natalie returns with Titanic Rising, her first album with Sub Pop records. With only a week since its release, the album has already received countless words of praise across all platforms — and rightfully so. The orchestration, vocal layering, production, and themes included on this album make it stand out as a timeless work of art. It’s refreshing to see how much heart and soul Mering put into this project. Yet even more admirable, perhaps, is that Mering’s creativity extends beyond her musicianship, as she took on the role of directing her own music videos, as well. Needless to say, she really delivered here.
From the first few seconds of the opening track, “A Lot’s Gonna Change”, the listener is immediately enchanted by Mering’s gentle, guiding vocals, which could be easily comparable to that of Carole King, Karen Carpenter, and Joni Mitchell if the three of them were somehow able to combine their voices together. It’s angelic and comforting, and is a perfect way to begin this sonic journey. She also channels sounds of some of her own inspirations, such as Hoagy Carmichael and George Gershwin. In this track, present-day Mering sings to her younger self, talking of nostalgia and how she longs to go back to the days where she was a little girl, when she had the “whole world gently wrapped around” her.
The second track, “Andromeda” is one of the highlights of the album. The song was released as a single earlier in January, and it stands as one of the most beautifully haunting songs on the record. This song has more of a psychedelic-folk feel compared to the baroque pop/psychedelic pop that most of the other songs can be categorized as. The simple bassline and steady drums provide the perfect contrast to the slide guitar that sound as though they were lifted right off of a George Harrison solo record. The ending with the warped guitar slides fading out make for a perfect subtle addition to a great track. The next song, “Everyday”, was also released earlier as a single. The cheerful piano and handclaps is extremely reminiscent to the Zombies or the Kinks with that classic, uplifting sunshine pop feel.
Additionally, the vocal harmonies that Mering arranged on this track would likely impress Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and the surviving members of the Mamas & the Papas. Everything is so carefully and tastefully constructed that the listener would probably be satisfied listening to just the harmonies alone as the whole song. The outro breakdown of this song is pure psychedelia – and it is exceptionally well done. Similar to the breakdown in the Beatles, “A Day In The Life”, this track includes instruments going awry, and dark sounding synths slowly fading in the background. Despite all of the 60’s and 70’s comparisons and influences though, Mering still stands out with her personal, modern twist in the genuinity of her songwriting, especially with the sarcastic, clever lyrics that contradict the cheerful instruments.
These contradictions between the music and the lyrics are nothing new for Mering, as she once stated in an interview that she loves juxtapositions. This entire album can considered a juxtaposition itself, as it is equally as delicate and heartfelt as it is intense and powerful. An example of this is evident with the transition from the energetic, feel good vibe of “Everyday” to the intensely emotional “Something to Believe.” In this song, Mering is her most vulnerable, describing the inescapable feelings of loneliness:
“Then by some strange design I got a case of the empties
The ruler of my world, a lost forgotten pearl
When fire leaves a girl
Too burned to dry my life
Living on a fault line
And at night
I just laid down and cried.”
This track also embodies more of a folk sound, as well, as the stringy guitars just scream Fleetwood Mac (even the Eagles, too). The background harmonies at the end are once again a nod to the Beach Boys, which makes for a really cool mix of the psychedelic folk rock of the 70s and the dynamic harmonies of the 1960s surf pop music.
The next track, “Titanic Rising”, is an instrumental interlude featuring a collection of synth sounds and drones that make the listener feel as though they are in some surreal, underwater dream (as if you are inside the album art). It’s a great segue into the track, “Movies”, one of the more dynamic songs on the album. The theme of the song fits perfectly with the instrumentation, as the track itself is quite cinematic. The combination of the spacey arpeggiator, the layered vocal harmonies, and the feeling of space within the track all come together to create this cathartic release, leaving you with emotions you didn’t even realize you had. The vocal layering can be slightly compared to Imogen Heap’s infamous, “Hide And Seek.” It can also be comparable to some Muse ballads, with their classic use of arpeggiators and instrumental breakdowns/switchups that are prominent parts of this track.
The final half of the album is more mellow than the first half. Her gentle vocals and soft instruments evoke an introspective feel, and it feels as though we are sitting with Mering in her bedroom as she sings to herself about what she is thinking about. The closing track, “Nearer to Thee” is an orchestral reprise of the opening track “A Lot’s Gonna Change”, and is the perfect conclusion to this sonic journey.
Ultimately, this ethereal album sets Mering way ahead in the genre of psychedelic pop. This is another example of the great pieces of art that can come from an artist when given the chance to experiment freely in the studio — especially for one who was used to the ways of bedroom production. With co-production from Foxygen’s, Jonathan Rado, they succeeded in securing that nostalgic vibe, while also adding newer modern elements that will appeal to both old and new listeners — and everyone in between. Natalie Mering is a true, authentic artist; a wise, old soul who is very much ahead of her time. After this release, there is no telling where Mering will go with her newfound creative freedom. Her next projects will certainly be highly anticipated.
- A Lot’s Gonna Change
- Something to Believe
- Titanic Rising
- Mirror Forever
- Wild Time
- Picture Me Better
- Nearer to Thee