Review: The Unnerving Nostalgia of Weyes Blood's "Titanic Rising" - Rolling Stone
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Review: The Unnerving Nostalgia of Weyes Blood’s ‘Titanic Rising’

Natalie Mering’s blissful vintage pop trip has freakouts lurking just out of frame

Brett Stanley

Taken line by line, the conversational lyrics of Natalie Mering, aka: Weyes Blood —pronounced “Wise Blood,” a moniker taken from the Flannery O’Connor novel — seem straightforward, sober, and frequently inspirational. We hear from someone who “drank a lot of coffee today,” who recognizes that “some of us go astray,” who wants “something to believe.” Someone who tells a lover “we love our love.” Someone who believes “you’ll learn to get by/ cause you got what it takes.”

But as they pile up, these statements turn cryptic, contradictory, and uncertain, as romantic optimism is swept up in waves of doubt and realist pessimism. The same thing happens in her music, which regularly suggests the beloved, uplifting, soul-swaddling radio pop of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The opening track, “A Lot’s Gonna Change,” conjures Karen Carpenter singing with crystalline purity over gentle piano chords, waxing nostalgic about childhood. But it’s offset by creepy Phantom of the Opera organ, and while the song rises on buoyant swells of strings, a wobbling ghost-tone in the background conjures a whale in death throes. “Born in a century lost to memories/Falling trees,” Mering incants, then delivers a pep talk that feels like its being delivered, metaphorically, from a sinking ship.

It’s a strangely addictive mix, comfort-food nostalgia that telegraphs knowingness without sarcasm, parody or airquotes. Mering assembled a perfect team for her project, led by wingman Jonathan Rado (Foxygen), an analog fetishist who’s become a producer of choice for a particular breed of like-minded indie-pop artists: his recent co-conspirators include Father John Misty, Whitney, and the Lemon Twigs (whose multi-instrumentalist brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario are all over Titanic Rising).

The title invokes a cultural metaphor of terror lurking beneath privileged luxury — an awfully timely American vision. Yet Titanic Rising suggests there’s still reasons to be hopeful, if only for the pleasure of un-deluded ravishment. And so the blissfully shiny synths of the title track are rusted with flickering pulses of distortion, morse code tapped out as if from the sea floor. “Everyday” describes the tug of war between the security of solitary drift and opening up to love, pivoting indecisively on the phrase “then again” and turning indecision into a flower-power-pop celebration, complete with an “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke” choral arrangements. (The blood-splattered, Dario Argento-style video clip adds a bonus layer of dread.)  “Movies” is another watery synthscape, Mering’s voice layered into a choir Enya-style, celebrating the glory of cinema while simultaneously indicting its mindfuckery (“I’m bound to that summer/ big box office hit/ making love to counterfeit”). The next song, “Mirror Forever,” also ponders the divide between acting and reality in the shadow of 24/7 social media performativity: “No one’s ever gonna give you a trophy/ For all the pain and things you’ve been through/ No one knows but you” she councils soberly, over a bed of strings. Like the rest of the set, it’s comforting, but not enough to lull you into thinking things will necessarily be okay. And that realism somehow makes it doubly comforting.


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