Weyes Blood Titanic Rising

[Sub Pop; 2019]

Styles: anti-cynicism pop
Others: Ariel Pink, Karen Carpenter, Sarah Cracknell, Trish Keenan

At some point this decade, time began to falter. It would skip and repeat itself, stutter dumbly in place, surge violently ahead, and crash back to the present. It was the “End of History,” but for the exact opposite reasons that neoliberal scholars like Francis Fukuyama argued at the turn of the millennium. In the decade of SpaceX and resurgent fascism, of gentrification and the return of measles, there would be no consensus — not for free markets, not for liberal democracy — because our shared record of note, time, could no longer map progress in line with the future.

But without time as a measure for history, it soon became clear that it was also lost as a benchmark for meaning. Without space for reflection or a frame to understand events, the world has sped-up into absurdity: unresolved crisis bleeding into unresolved crisis, a glut of emergencies competing for attention on the online marketplace of sympathy; well-lit meals and humanitarian disasters, dating apps promising that love is still real. A stream of unfiltered nonsense that softens the edges rather than throws into relief the specter of the ultimate profundity: the complete destruction of life on Earth. Climate change, another item to scroll past. Why commit to time if you couldn’t be certain that we had any left at all?

On Titanic Rising , Natalie Mering’s third record as Weyes Blood, she considers the fallout from a world out of sync and commits herself to the future anyway. In doing so, she unpacks a love for life that is neither short-sighted nor sentimental, but vast and knowing: in full acceptance of Fran Lebowitz’s legendary maxim that “happiness is a sensation, not a condition.” But Titanic Rising is even more accomplished than putting Mering’s state of grace to music; with her 70s-inflected approach to songwriting, she succeeds in nothing less than recalibrating time.

Opening track “A Lot’s Gonna Change” sets the stakes for the record early on. Addressed to a younger version of herself, Mering lays out the heartbreak she will face and the strength that she must muster in serene, but stark language: “Born in a century lost to memories/ Falling trees, get off your knees/ No one can keep you down.” As she tears into the chorus, her gorgeous soprano is both poised and streaked with pain, as she circumscribes hope with the limits of a crushing reality.

“Andromeda” picks up from “A Lot’s Gonna Change” and propels her worldly concerns into the cosmos. The song is a tractor beam of love that cycles through cynicism to hope. Mering’s voice is grounded by strummed guitar and a polite drum shuffle, but it’s launched into the stratosphere with the help of astral synths and steel guitar. “If you think you can save me/ I dare you to try,” Mering sings, before flipping that line’s defensiveness into an encouragement for openness: “I dare you to try.”

Both of these tracks mark the realization of an aesthetic ideal that Mering has chased since her debut. Titanic Rising is such a bulletproof piece of 1970s pop song craft that one could mistake it at first for a lost Karen Carpenter album. But to write Mering’s work off as pastiche would be to miss out on her greatest provocations as an artist. In committing to the sounds of the past so utterly, she fucks up the linearity and distance of time, proving that feelings of helplessness and heartbreak are as timeless as pop music.

Mering is less the heiress to Carpenter than she is to Ariel Pink. In many ways, Weyes Blood is the IMAX version of hypnagogic pop. So named for the state between wakefulness and sleep, the early 2010s genre aspired to trigger memory through reverb and tape hiss the way ASMR sends shivers up the spine. Like its British cousin hauntology, which deploys similar effects to evoke nostalgia for lost futures, hypnagogic pop trades in visions of a sun-bleached past through an ultra-Californian (but also very Mexican) awareness of all that’s lost as time drifts by. Mering weighs the lost peace, missed communication, and existential dread that are hallmarks of this decade without getting bogged down by them or pining unrealistically for better days. In echoing Carpenter’s yearning, Mering also matches it with a forward-looking manifesto of environmental consciousness, faith in others and in one’s self.

Where the touchstones for artists like Pink and James Ferraro were MTV, New Wave, and lite rock, Mering creates a uniquely feminine tapestry of New Age, AM pop, and Laurel Canyon folk. In this respect, her other peers include Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne and Trish Keenan of Broadcast, women whose contributions to hauntology bent female-fronted 60s bubblegum into pop tracks that were timeless and haunted.

On her previous record, 2016’s Front Row Seat to Earth, Mering would lean into electronics to create this wormhole effect, with vocoder and synth flourishes hinting at the unreality beyond her incredibly poised presence. But Titanic Rising is all the stronger for wringing out casual surrealism in less flashy ways. The chiming piano notes between lines on “Wild Time” summon an eerie calm, while the manic peppiness of “Everyday” climaxes into crashing guitars, pianos, and drums by the song’s end.

The record’s emotional climax occurs three and a half minutes into “Movies.” Over a cold, elliptical keyboard line, Mering sings of dispossession from her own life and wanting to inhabit a narrative as meaningful and profound as a film. In the accompanying music video, Mering drifts eerily underwater in a blonde wig, distant and untouchable, navigating currents that her audience will never be able to swim. As her voice rises into massive, processed surround-sound, the audience is emboldened by a theater-goer who gets out of her seat and jumps into the movie.

But the music is even more moving. As the keyboard drops out, violins pick up the melody as drums pound like heartbeats underneath. Impossible digital sounds are swapped for intensely human ones, as Mering sings to the rafters, “I wanna be the star of my own/ I wanna be my own movie.” As the percussion fades out and strings surge around her, Mering jumps into the water and smiles peacefully, as the camera pans out to reveal that no one’s in the theater. Nor does she need anyone to be.

This is the essence at the heart of Titanic Rising, a firm belief that life has meaning, even as we struggle to fix it on to structures that will hold. Natalie Mering recognizes that the cruelest part of the apocalypse is that it will lack the profundity of a meteor heading to Earth but will instead feature Donald Trump as President. In taking into account what matters, with a firm eye on the horizon, she raises sunken spirits and steers us out onto the open sea.

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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