Nick Bollinger discusses the strong melodies, experimental sonics and social studies of California-born singer-songwriter Weyes (pronounced Wise) Blood.
28-year-old California-born Natalie Mering has been both an experimental noise musician and a solo singer-songwriter. With her powerful voice and strong affecting songs it would be easy to mistake her solely for the latter. But listen closely to the latest album she’s made as Weyes Blood – pronounced Wise Blood - and you might find just as much of the experimentalist.
Her songs are about people; the way they charm or harm each other, and the consequences of their actions. In ‘Diary’, the opening track, she takes on the voice of a junkie, who is standing back to consider the effects of his addiction, not just on himself but also those around him. At other times, the dialogue seems to be between lovers – as in ‘Do You Need My Love’. perhaps the record’s loveliest individual track; another mini-epic with a gorgeous, almost baroque pop melody.
Her songs often begin small and intimate, yet reveal themselves to be epics in miniature. She has a fondness for the kind of keyboard sounds you might find on an old Beatles or Procol Harum record, and her live rhythm section and a preference for recording to tape add to the flavour of late 60s psychedelia.
But this is no simple exercise in retro; more a question of whatever works. And she is equally partial to contemporary manipulations like looping and sampling in a track like ‘Can’t Go Home’, layering multiple voices to create something like a small electronic choir. Elsewhere she augments warm, analogue instruments with synth horns or sampled harps. And in the title track the noise musician takes over and the whole thing shifts into abstract sonic collage.
But the collision of past and present is perhaps most effective in the track that forms the album’s centrepiece. The song is called ‘Generation Why’. Here she makes a chorus out of the initials Y.O.L.O. – popular millennial anagram for ‘you only live once’ - and makes some anxious and very current observations: ‘It’s not the past that scares me/now what a great future this is going to be.’
On one level, the album’s title Front Row Seat To Earth provides a perfect catch-all for Mering’s songs, which bring us up close and personal to archetypal tales of life on this planet. But there’s another possible interpretation too; one Mering has suggested herself, and which shows a wider scope and vision. To her, Front Row Seat To Earth implies the passive way humans tend to regard the world; a theatre we observe, yet take no responsibility for.
By paying attention to the microcosm of personal experience as she does throughout these songs, one might see its relation to the macro as well. “We all need to leave each other, to say sorry, to change,” she says. “What if we could leave, say sorry, and change our world?”
Not everyone is going to hear Front Row Seat To Earth in such heightened terms, and that’s okay too. But those extra layers that Mering plants in her songs are mirrored in the rich and subtle layers of the music, making this an album that stands up to a lot of listening; a lot of excavating.
Songs featured: Be Free, Used To Be, Can’t Go Home, Front Row Seat, Generation Why, Diary, Do You Need My Love.
Front Row Seat To Earth is available on Mexican Summer.