National Music Reviews: Dark Picks of 2016

Review: Weyes Blood – Front Row Seat to Earth

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Weyes Blood
Front Row Seat to Earth

Mexican Summer
Street: 10.21
Weyes Blood = Angel Olsen + Charlie Hilton + Enya

Weyes Blood (aka Natalie Mering) belongs to the new movement of goth glam/folk female artists who resurrect the powers of vintage heartbreak ballads to become once again eerie, alluring and totally devastating. For her fourth release, Front Row Seat To Earth, Mering explores the loneliness of being both within and without love— each track a kind of soliloquy about saying goodbye to a partner.

Opening with “Diary” and “Used To Be,” Mering begins with her icy piano tones that slowly become lifted by harps, synths, organs, delicate drums and haunting backing vocals. At first listen, I couldn’t help picturing Karen Carpenter, or maybe a very distraught Olivia Newton John singing longingly to her reflection in a pond. Surprisingly though, the music manages to evoke this while still remaining deadly serious and even psychedelic. Mering is immersive if you give her patience. Between the lyrics and the sounds, like in “Used To Be,” she presents the emotional duality of heartbreak as the triumphant music backs her lamenting words: “[You] Used to be the one that knew me / saw through me.” It becomes apparent that Mering’s most compelling connections with the listener are found within the empty space left by many popular love songs throughout the ages. Rather than pushing for romantic extremes (“Stay, Baby, Stay” vs. “Hit The Road, Jack”), she both loves and lets go: “It’s just the two of us / And I want you to be free / Don’t worry about me / I got my thing.”

In the keystone track of the album, “Generation Why,” Mering resets the sonic landscape by using almost Imogen Heap–style electric vocal harmonies to create the same feeling of a reverent hymn. As the suddenly acceptable Guitar 101 fingerpicking comes in, Mering sings out the realization she has while distracting herself with her phone that she no longer needs to stay in a bad relationship, and uses those same harmonies in the chorus to actually spell out “Y-O-L-O.” She makes this move almost so serenely that my surprise at hearing the term felt closer to the literal definition of irony (who can keep track anymore?). Regardless, it’s a great turning point in the album, as the songs become less about missing ex-lovers and more about finding personal solidity. This leads into probably my favorite moment, “Seven Words,” where Mering slyly criticizes her lover’s changing of their narrative to lessen the blow of the separation: [“I know you moved on / Telling everyone how I done you so wrong … [sarcastically] / Who am I but a stranger / Who took you down …And now I face tomorrow.”]

For the sake of the theme this month, I want to make the point that Front Row Seat To Earth is really only a dark album on the surface. Yes, Mering seems to express herself from moments of that cruel kind of loneliness born from romantic decay. However, the album is a reminder that heartbreak is only possible if one is willing to love in the first place. Breakups have an odd way of showing you that you’ve now become a bigger vessel for emotional wisdom, and that’s always kind of a riveting but pretty fucked-up experience. Mering knows this. By embracing the kitschy style and mocking the unavoidable transparency of bygone aesthetics, Mering is celebrated for figuring out how to allow herself to be excessively dramatic and give us one big wink at the same time. What’s dark, I think, is that a lot of us prefer to see pain this way. –Nic Smith