Music rarely has the kind of universal appeal that can affect change on a tangible level, but even the most poignant and potent music has a more immediate purpose: To make us feel less alone. Of late that’s a condition that seems to require more immediate attention. Even in the best of times loneliness is universal, but the isolation of an ongoing pandemic and the increasingly dire effects of capitalism with no accountability can and has left just about everyone with occasional pangs of hopelessness. A song can’t necessarily cure that for good, but it can at least temporarily treat the symptoms.
On “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody,” the first single from Weyes Blood‘s And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, Natalie Mering addresses that very feeling of isolation, first as a dispatch from a party where she fails to recognize any familiar faces and then as just one voice in a global ensemble of broken hearts. Amid one of her most beautiful arrangements, subtly rising into something lush and grand, she asks: “Has a time ever been more revealing/That the people are hurting.” It’s a little like the cliche about a comedian saying out loud what we’re all thinking, but vastly more comforting—that pain doesn’t have to be experienced in solitude.
And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow is a big album about personal anxieties from overwhelming problems. The second such album in Mering’s discography, following the dire warnings of climate change and cynicism about the effects of black-screen life on 2019’s Titanic Rising, And In the Darkness uses that internal uneasiness as an olive branch of sorts—as that first single suggests, Mering is largely concerned with the collective “we,” as explored through some of her most stunningly ambitious songwriting, but delivered through her own unique perspective.
At once less vividly surreal than its predecessor and at times less starkly intimate, And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow is a set of songs intended to draw us closer, both as listeners and as people who are going through it—just like everyone else. Mering’s perspective is rarely so direct, whether she’s exploring the long stretch of Interstate 5 as a metaphor for the distance between people on “Grapevine,” or invoking the myth of Narcissus in the dichotomy between personal perceptions versus how we imagine others might see us in the haunting “God Turn Me Into a Flower.” Yet amid the idiosyncrasies in her outlook, she always seems to arrive upon some kind of universal truth, one that’s all the more affecting by not being obvious or cliche.
Once again working with Jonathan Rado, who also co-produced Titanic Rising, Mering wraps each attempt at connection and yearning for healing in arrangements that are immersive and overflowing with detail. She asks, “How much can you take? And when are you going to be okay?” amid carnivalesque organ arpeggios, clanging bells and finger-snaps in “Children of the Empire.” She reassures that “we are more than our disguises/We are more than just our pain” over drum-machine bossa nova beats and post-punk guitar gloom in “Twin Flame.” And unusually straightforward folk-rock strums guide the progression of “The Worst Is Done.” Even when nothing seems to feel good, it still sounds amazing.
It feels only appropriate that Weyes Blood constructs some of the most overwhelming sounds of her career in an effort to try to make something that feels the most universal in its sentiments. And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow isn’t pop music at its most populist, but rather an appropriate array of sounds through which to communicate such larger, open-hearted ideas about connection. Indeed, it’s hard to feel entirely alone in the company of an album like this, in which there’s so much happening. Like the act of mercy Mering mentions in “It’s Not Just You, It’s Everybody,” And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow offers an outstretched hand.
Label: Sub Pop
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.