Echoes of the past from 'nostalgic futurist'

Much like the rest of American music's one-offs - Joanna Newsom, Liz Harris and Julia Holter - Natalie Mering sounds timeless, or more accurately, out of time.

Listening to Mering, who goes by the stage name of Weyes Blood (a reference to Flannery O'Connor's 1952 gothic novel Wise Blood), you hear echoes of ghosts and decades past - a mother lode of emotions long buried now slowly unearthed.

On Titanic Rising, her fourth album, she pinpoints her inspiration in the ill-fated ship, whose 1912 sinking after a collision with an iceberg has become a cultural epicentre, birthing the 1997 watery blockbuster pivoted on a doomed dalliance starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

A self-described "nostalgic futurist", she views the vessel's tragedy as a moral lesson, drawing a parallel between the then over-reliance on technology as the be-all and end-all for man's problems and the continuing loss of control over identity and privacy online today.

As she explains in a recent interview: "The concept of Titanic Rising is more like this slow-moving hubris of man, flooding humanity in a pace that we can't fully comprehend."

"If I could go back to a time before now/Before I ever fell down/Go back to a time when I was just a girl/When I had the whole world/Gently wrapped around me" are the opening lines of the album's first track, A Lot's Gonna Change.



    Weyes Blood

    Sub Pop

    4 stars

It's an eerily serene dirge prefaced incongruously by a musical nod to Warszawa, an ominous synth track from David Bowie's 1977 classic album, Low. It segues into a gorgeous spell, illumed with swelling strings and sturdy drums, as if conducted by Burt Bacharach, belying the subtext of her calming words delivered in the deceptively disarming croon of a 1970s-styled singer-songwriter, like Janis Ian or Karen Carpenter.

"Born in a century lost to memories/ Falling trees, get off your knees," she avers, highlighting the signs of a fast combusting world first glimpsed in her previous album, 2016's Front Row Seat To Earth.

In Movies, the cinephile laments the chasm between reality and romance, yet ultimately finding the possibility of redemption in the aforementioned epic, mirage as it is.

As a loop of electronic oscillations burp to the surface, Mering delivers the song's sucker punch: "The meaning of life doesn't seem to shine like that screen."

As violins jostle with a salvo of hard-knockin' thumps, she nevertheless extols the power of cinema as escape and ambition. "I wanna be the star of mine/Of my own, my own/My own," she sings, her unflappable alto switching to a sky-scraping soprano, buoyed along by sheer conviction.

And so, despite the evidence to the contrary, Mering isn't a dour pessimist. For one, she's still scanning the Andromeda galaxy for love. While languid guitar riffs ring over synths slowly melting away in the track of the same name, she promises: "Love is calling/It's time to give to you/Something you can hold onto/I dare you to try."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2019, with the headline 'Echoes of the past from 'nostalgic futurist''. Print Edition | Subscribe