“It’s been a long, strange year/ everyone is sad,” Natalie Mering notes near the end of her musical project Weyes Blood’s fifth album. That observation comes at the outset of “The Worst Is Done,” which finds Mering taking stock of recent history’s bleakness and casting a weary glance upon any hopes that it might lift. While the synth fireworks and upbeat backing vocals that orbit her smooth alto are supposed to indicate the opposite, there’s also an uncanniness about them that gives reason to Mering’s unease.
That’s the animating paradox of And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, a beautifully wrought pop record that grapples with the disquiet hanging over the globe. Mering doesn’t have answers to the modern age’s ills, but Darkness is a stunning response to them. Over its 10 tracks (two of which are interludes, including the string-quartet “Hearts Aglow” postscript “And In the Darkness”), Mering meshes piano-driven pop songs with glorious experimentalism, defying the closing-in that has seemed to dominate the 2020s.
“It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” opens the record, a lament about feeling disconnected from people she once held close, including herself. Mering’s fatigue over frayed bonds threatens to overtake her, until she has a realization: “It’s all a part of one big thing,” she muses. When the she finally sings “It’s not just me, it’s everybody,” a harp (played by the superlative Mary Lattimore) sweeps in, and so does light. The song blooms into fully orchestrated splendor, with Mering repeating the title phrase as if it’s a mantra for holding on—and maybe treasuring the small moments of beauty along the way.
And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow is intricately put together, with Mering mirroring the sentiments of in head-bending arrangements; “God Turn Me Into a Flower” updates the myth of Narcissus and uses Mering’s layered vocals (as well as synth squiggles by her and Daniel Lopatin) to evoke its otherworldly longing, while the finale, “A Given Thing,” finds Mering reflecting on how “sometimes our love is enrapturing/ and other times it’s just unraveling/ in front of me.” Her voice is low in the mix of whooshing synths and deliberate piano chords at times, perhaps indicating her ambivalence toward love—although when she declares her desire to break the fighting-and-reconciling cycle, it soars, carried along by resolve.
“Oh, we don’t have time, anymore/ to be afraid, anymore,” Mering sings on the musical in miniature “Children of the Empire,” right before it swells into a cacophonous coda replete with hand claps and vigorous strings. And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow confronts the horrors of the present and combats them in the most defiant way—with grace and open-heartedness that’s unflinchingly honest, yet tender in its aim to soothe.