In a letter accompanying the release of her latest album, Natalie Mering likens her heart to “a glow stick that’s been cracked.” If that’s the case, then And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow — the Los Angeles musician’s fifth full-length album as Weyes Blood — seems to document the strife of clambering through gloom armed with only a paltry glimmer.
Weyes Blood’s previous album, 2019’s Titanic Rising, was billed as the first of a trilogy. While its predecessor seemed to languish in the panic of an impending, uncertain doom, And In the Darkness wonders: What do we do when doom is finally here? In a twisted sort of kismet, that doom became more real than Mering bargained for. Just one year shy of Titanic Rising‘s first anniversary, COVID-19 broke out in the US. So, she got back to work.
“I think a lot of people were kind of in denial about what was really happening,” Mering recounts to Consequence by Zoom. “There was a certain point in the thick of it when I was like, ‘OK, the future is not what I thought it was gonna be like.’ It was a humbling experience. But I think when things get really dark, the best thing to do is focus in on the light.”
Such a light, And In the Darkness seems to argue, can come from human connection — a source Mering doesn’t take for granted. As a self-described “wandering minstrel” who’s spent the majority of her career thus far on the road, her closest friends are scattered around the globe, but she’s rarely alone.
“I think in general, I know what it’s like to feel isolated, even though I don’t think that my existence is isolated, because I get to be around people all the time,” she explains. “And across the board with my generation, I also see this loss of community. With the onset of social media, communities don’t happen [as much], and you can kind of sense that with how people interact with one another.”
The album’s wistful, plaintive opener “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” embodies the odd alienation that can envelop you while in a crowd. “Oh, it’s been so long since I felt really known,” Mering broods in her distinctly rich alto. Meanwhile, over the singer-songwriter chug of “Grapevine,” she uses her penchant for vivid imagery to detail a relationship on the fritz: “California’s my body/ And your fire runs over me.”
Mering is a determined problem-solver by design, even in times of bleak uncertainty. “It’s been a death march/ The whole world is crumbling,” she sings on the eerily romantic “Hearts Aglow.” Though her obsession with the state of the world admittedly keeps her up at night, And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow searches for the strange comforts in accepting that catastrophe is inevitable.
“I had this revelation that there’s nothing new under the sun, and for whatever reason, human societies have always gone through different cataclysms,” she explains. “But the ingenuity of the human soul and the elasticity of the human spirit are going to shine through no matter what happens.”
One of the album’s most upbeat moments is “Children of the Empire,” which, fittingly, acts as something like a call to arms. “We tend to live long, that’s why so many things go wrong,” Mering sings, a subtly gut-wrenching line that perfectly distills the bittersweetness of modernity. “Trying to break away/ From the mess we made/ Oh, we don’t have time anymore to be afraid.”
But And In the Darkness doesn’t pretend to hold the key to cleaning up that mess. “Especially now, I think that everything moves and changes so fast, there’s no way to fully quantify exactly what’s going on at any given moment,” Mering adds. “It would be presumptuous to assume we have the wisdom to really figure it out.”
And In the Darkness can apply to nearly any time period thematically as well as sonically. Weyes Blood has often been compared to ’60s and ’70s folk greats, and the cues she pulls from church and Renaissance music are indisputable. But blended with Mering’s niche contemporary interests — she cites horror movie soundtracks as an early catalyst of her songwriting career — her new album, like all good things Weyes Blood, feels deliberately atemporal.
“We kind of live in a gridlock of linear time,” she says. “And if we can enjoy something from the past, I think it increases our likelihood of enjoying something in the future.”
The future is a concept Mering considers heavily. She says the forthcoming third chapter of her trilogy will take a more hopeful stance, which she seems to wink at on And In the Darkness. “It’s good to be soft/ When they push you down,” she sings on the kaleidoscopic ballad “God Turn Me Into a Flower,” inspired by the myth of Narcissus, whose obsession with his own reflection — which he didn’t recognize as himself — cost him any chance of true human connection.
“We’re constantly striving for this idea of external happiness when the answers are most likely within ourselves, and no career, no validation, no relationship is ever going to really quench that thirst,” Mering says.
The penultimate track on And In the Darkness is “The Worst Is Done,” a cheeky warning sign of sorts. “They say the worst is done/ But I think it’s only just begun,” she sings, as if she’s the only character in a ’50s sci-fi disaster film who realizes that potentially fatal danger is imminent.
“We can try our best to influence a different future and turn abstract things into actionable change, but the only real choice you have is yourself and how you’re going to feel about it,” Mering says. “I just hope the album provides some kind of catharsis on how bizarro everything has become. All my friends are always like, ‘Last year was weird, this year is weird, too.’ Every year might just be weird from now on.”
Film, mythology, and literature have long influenced the music of Weyes Blood, but when asked what type of story And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow would be, Mering surprisingly describes it as a romance novel. She cites the album’s final lyric on its sweeping, piano-driven closer “A Given Thing” as proof: “Oh, it’s a given thing/ Love everlasting.”
“I think it’s very important for the human psychology to believe in the concept of love everlasting, or something kind of beyond ourselves that we can tap into when we need to,” Mering ponders. “I think if the album was a romance novel, it could have a happy ending.”
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And In the Darkness Artwork: