In 2019, one album was talked about in the indie musicsphere more than any other: Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising. The album amassed widespread critical acclaim and quickly boosted the artist’s (aka Natalie Mering) popularity, thanks to its lush, beautifully-arranged compositions and Mering’s powerful voice, able to command each track with incredible poise like a modern-day Judy Collins. Her newest album, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, is more of the same rich, well-mixed production and rose-colored lyricism — but is that ultimately a good thing?
And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow is incredibly front-loaded. Lead single “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” introduces the album in a lyrically grand way, detailing loneliness in the modern age of smartphones and advanced technology. The song builds and builds like an epiphany surfacing: “Oh, it’s not just me / I guess it’s everybody / Yes, we all bleed the same way.” Everyone has experienced these feelings of loneliness, whether from hiding behind a screen at parties or being the new kid in a group and using a phone as a crutch to feign confidence. Mering nails this relatable topic on the head.
“Grapevine” is a softly swaying song in three-fourths time with Mering reminiscing about a lost love. The vintage references to 1950s Southern California and James Dean pair nicely with the rustic country twang of the song. The entire track feels like a hauntingly pretty daydream or memory, dizzying and lost in time, with references to “ghost towns” and driving on the highway late at night.
“God Turn Me Into a Flower” is the best track on the album. In anticipation of the winter’s shortening daylight, colder temperatures and the onset of seasonal depression, Mering’s pleas to God to turn her into something as soft and as simple as a flower feel all the more heart-breaking and sympathetic. The song abandons any sense of structure, relying mostly on ambient, rubato synth chords and Mering’s heart-wrenching vocals, mimicking her desire to free herself from the harshness of the world and her own reflection. The weight of the choral vocals in the back half of the track hit hard after the final verse, and the sounds of chirping birds that flutter in and out of both ears evoke the soothing sounds of springtime.
Despite these high points, all released as singles preceding the LP, the album dies down around its midpoint, with tracks like “Twin Flame” missing a strong chorus or any memorable lyrics. The odd man out on this folk album due to its use of drum machine and ’80s synths, “Twin Flame” sounds like it was pulled straight out of the Twin Peaks soundtrack, which isn’t a bad thing. However, the track ultimately goes nowhere, remaining pretty sonically stagnant throughout. Even lyrically, this track is nothing special: “You’re my twin flame / And you got me so cold / When you pull away,” Mering repeats over and over in a high-pitched croon. These lyrics are not as profound as earlier tracks on the album, leaving the listener feeling underwhelmed.
Admittedly, the album does not go up much from “Twin Flame,” since the following and final two tracks of the album are frankly forgettable — especially the album closer, “A Given Thing.” Mering rambles on about “an everlasting love,” yet the piano chords grow incredibly sluggish and stale given the song’s lack of a chorus and memorable melody. It becomes a painfully mundane listen, especially in contrast to the well-structured and climactic “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody,” a sign that Blood should have left this track on the chopping block.
There is nothing innovative about this album; true, an album doesn’t have to be innovative, though the lack of the memorable tracks that gave 2019’s Titanic Rising such widespread appeal is clear. Mering tries to strike gold again by repeating the same formula on And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, and though it continues the artist’s trajectory into indie pop stardom, it is a forgettable album that won’t stick with any listener five or ten years from now.
Daily Arts Writer Zachary Taglia can be reached at email@example.com.