Genre: Baroque Pop
Favorite Tracks: All
David Attenborough wastes no time cutting to the chase in OUR PLANET. Set to tragic scenes of polar bears stranded in the ocean, ice walls crumbling, and walruses falling to their death, the legendary narrator reminds us that these calamities are our own doing, and that our impending future is much, much darker. It’s without a doubt one of the bleakest things that’ll grace a screen this year, but at times Attenborough leaves you with something to believe in: “Nature is resilient. Great riches still remain. And with our help, the planet can recover.” Natalie Mering’s latest album, TITANIC RISING, is cut from the same cloth, making sense of a world that’s quickly collapsing before our eyes and finding beauty below the surface.
When viewed alongside the generally sour mood permeating much of the music being released by her contemporaries, Mering’s optimistic tone is striking. From start to finish, the record stacks sweet, simple phrases over astonishingly lush instrumental arrangements that evoke the wonderment of childhood unlike anything else you’ll hear this year. It’s an approach anchored by her choice to bring her voice, without a doubt the strongest weapon in her arsenal, front and center. This is among the starkest differences to her earlier work, on which she would often obfuscate or altogether omit her vocals in favor of experimental soundscapes.
The signature Weyes Blood harmonies are downright angelic on “Wild Time,” a much more sober examination of the WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE thesis posited four years back with couplets like, “Beauty, a machine that’s broken / Running on a million people trying,” an analysis much more in tune with the current climate than the Diet WATCH THE THRONE variety, especially one chorus later when Mering trades in “trying” for “burning.” But it’s not all doom and gloom—take “Everyday,” an impossibly sugary ‘70s baroque pop barnburner that Mering absolutely crushes. Her vocals are her most confident to date, stealing attention away from the stellar Jonathan Rado-assisted production that sounds like PET SOUNDS had Brian Wilson gone a tad further off the deep end. The accompanying music video takes the track to even greater heights, setting Mering and friends at a cabin in the mountains terrorized by a deranged hatchet wielder. Cutting between shots of comically over-the-top murders and Mering belting out the song’s strongest lines, the audio-visual contrast perfectly exemplifies the dueling forces at play across the album. The preceding “Andromeda” explores the isolation inherent with the vast expanse we occupy and works through the anxieties of letting in love: “Love is calling / It’s time to let it through / Find a love that will make you / I dare you to try.”
Romance is a recurring theme on “A Lot’s Gonna Change” and “Something to Believe,” both fantastically interplaying climate catastrophe with pollyannaish comfort, a bewildering pairing to be sure, but the strange pairing proves stunning with some of Mering’s most dazzling imagery yet (“I just lay down and cry / The waters don’t really go by me / Give me something I can see / Something bigger and louder than the voices in me”). This four-track run is without a doubt one of the decade’s best—its interruption serves as a brief breather before the record’s crown jewel.
“Movies” is preceded by the title track, an ethereal and formless interlude that’d play on the public address system if planes taxied through an aquarium before takeoff. As “Titanic Rising” fades, an entrancing swirling synth arpeggio takes its place and embarks on the most gripping six minutes of music in 2019. Mering continues to dive deeper into the idea of love, this time comparing it to the hyper-reality of cinema. Her opening line carries even more weight in the music video, which begins with Mering drifting deep underwater, tying back into the established intertwining of love and loneliness. As it builds to the first chorus, we see that Mering is projected onto a theater screen, a beautifully slow reveal, much like the three short lines in the chorus itself that Mering stretches out well over 30 seconds. All the tension built in the first three-and-a-half minutes is launched into the stratosphere with the turn of the simplest phrase uttered on the record, “I love movies.” The frantic cellos and pounding drums that follow are “Dance Yrself Clean” levels of cathartic release, and Mering’s repeated cries of longing to be the star are her purest expulsion of emotion. It’s bombastically brilliant. No other song will even flirt with accomplishing what “Movies” does and 2019’s current search for an album of the year has concluded. TITANIC RISING is a masterpiece.