The road that songwriter Natalie Mering and her shapeshifting project Weyes Blood walked was a long and twisting route, leading from weird experimental early days to the high-definition grandeur of fourth album Titanic Rising. Every step of the journey brought Mering's gifts for songcraft into sharper focus, with 2014's achingly beautiful The Innocents losing some of its hush with the soft rock lushness of 2016's Front Row Seat to Earth. That '70s FM radio spirit continues on Titanic Rising, but is expanded with more daring songwriting, larger than life arrangements, and the crystallization of Mering's distinctive take on songcraft. Mering has always been geared toward the big-picture creation of albums more than just writing stand alone tunes. Even her earliest work had a sense of purposeful architecture to the way it flowed between folky dirges and sheets of noise. Here she underscores enormously orchestrated pop songs with eerie experimental ambience, imagining a dreamworld where Joni Mitchell's late-'70s output was produced by Brian Eno. Mitchell's introspective searching is a key reference point for many of these songs, with Mering's self-harmonizing and bounding melodic approach recalling Mitchell on many tracks here. Once album-opener "Lot's Gonna Change" moves from a warped few seconds of synthesizer to its understated piano figure, it embodies the vulnerability and struggle found in so much of the Laurel Canyon songwriting set of the '70s. Co-production from Foxygen member Jonathan Rado might explain the brightly blooming chamber pop arrangements, merging Mering's soaring vocals with orchestral strings and drum fills borrowed directly from the Beatles. This optimistic throwback arrangement is in full force on the infectiously bubbly "Everyday," with lyrics inspecting a confusing relationship over a track as bouncy as a rubber ball. Mering effortlessly switches gears throughout the album, slipping between the synthy melodrama of "Movies" and the cold coffee blues piano ballad "Something to Believe," as well as making space for acoustic folk numbers, ambient interludes, and chamber pop diversions. Easily her most clear-headed set of songs to date, there's a directness here that sometimes got lost in the layers of earlier albums. She sounds driven and confident, asserting an intense control of the emotional flow of her songs without ever rushing things or letting some of the anxiety she sings about seep into the feel of the album. While all of Weyes Blood's albums leading up to Titanic Rising were good, even great, there's something that sets this one apart. Fantastic songs, meticulously detailed production, and a certain, hard-to-name spark of connection all gel into the near-perfect statement that every part of Mering's strange journey before this led up to.
Titanic Rising Review
by Fred Thomas