And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow is Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood’s second album in the trilogy that may well become a generational trinity. Its monumental predecessor, Titanic Rising, saw Mering beg and plead for some stable ground beneath her feet. With her cries answered only by the feedback of despondent tides, Mering swam through shipwrecks and salvaged memories just to look at the corrosion that had spread all over her desires. On In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, Mering can no longer indulge in the past, and the future is no refuge either. The second act of this apocalyptic trilogy is birthed as Mering clings onto a romantic desperation to guide the way through a moonless night.
String arrangements reminiscent of “A Lot’s Gonna Change” give rise to a stairway of piano notes on the intro track. Mering’s glowing voice shines light as we approach. As if reaching her hand out through the music, she sets the scene for Hearts Aglow with a bittersweet reminder that every one of us gets lost in the current. Her golden chants proclaim “It’s Not Just me, It’s Everybody” repeatedly, celebrating a revelation that she no longer needs to muzzle the voice of her pain. “Children of the Empire” throws the listener into a music hall located in the eye of a hurricane. She taps into the beauty of baroque instrumentation – I can feel the aliveness of each instrument. Pianos, harpsichords, and bells jump around on top of the “oooh’s” and “aaahs” in the background. Even a xylophone comes in to do his always-pleasant dance (Yes I will anthropomorphize an instrument, this is the Weyes Blood baroque effect). She laments the blood on the hands of herself and other “children” of a globalized era: the time when it is near-impossible to avoid burning oil extracted through invasions and single-use plastics that will never decay. Mering acknowledges that we will pay for our sins while gazing into this cosmic clutter. However, she reminds us that we “don’t have time to be afraid.” This party at the end of our heyday is soundtracked with grim coloring: “They say the worst is done, but I think it’s only just begun.” She continues to frolic beneath nihilistic rain on “Hearts Aglow,” crooning lines like “The whole world is crumbling; Oh, baby, let’s dance in the sand.” During these moments of bliss, the apocalypse is merely a blip on Mering’s radar.
The psychedelic folk tale, “Grapevine,” is a post-breakup rumination centered around Southern California’s Interstate 5. The soft hums of her guitar mystify the highway – she mythologizes the landscape as a path where one can curve around curves until they’ve escaped the relentless drone of time. It all leads to the nauseating realization that she and a past lover are now “just two cars passing by on the grapevine.” The song and the memory drive us off to become one with a dark blue horizon. In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow treats earthly forms as a foothill to wander up until we’ve entered the romanticized territory of mythos and fables. Mering’s voice can carry the listener away to these spaces, sweeping them up to fly to a world drenched in moonlit mystique. She’s got vocal prowess dripping with so much beauty that it could compel tears from a thirteen-year-old football player who has been conditioned to think that boys shouldn’t cry.
The escape that Weyes Blood seeks on the “Grapevine” has her sunk to her knees on “God Turn me Into a Flower.” She prays to morph into some embodiment of serenity – to be grounded and rooted. Birds chirp and Mother Nature communicates through synths similar to a language explored in Mort Garson’s Plantasia. Slowly, nature’s sounds take over and what’s human falls away, leaving in its wake buds that bloom to reach for the sun. The flowery ego-death that Mering prays for is a desire that can’t last. Resurrection fueled by blind hope arrives on “Hearts Aglow,” an endearing moment in which Mering shoots through the smog above to reach an unclogged sky. As she drifts in and out of white clouds, her voice is followed by harmonies of the heavens; Phil Spector’s ghostly fingerprints can be seen on the Walls of Sound that come from behind.
Mering uses instrumental segments such as “And in the Darkness” and “In Holy Flux” as globs of gravity to pull the listener even deeper into the tide of the album. Sandwiched – a bit awkwardly – between these two is the carbonated “Twin Flame.” Psychedelic drum patterns flow up beneath to pop like bubbles in your ears. I’d like to hear more of this weird style from Mering, the song makes me feel stranded in the cold and lightless Aphotic zone of the ocean. Hearts Aglow is bookended with “A Given Thing,” slowing things down Tori Amos style. A solid knot on the tracklist, but it doesn’t tie the project up as tight as she did on Titanic’s “Picture Me Better.” Most Hearts Aglow songs are just a bit less strong than their sequential counterparts on Titanic Rising, but this album leaves a golden wake behind regardless of any memory bias.
The most remarkable musical trilogies are often forged in great wildfires, whether those troubles are societal or personal: Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, The Cure’s “Gothic” Series, Dylan’s 14-Month Trilogy. With a cocktail of microplastics and Teflon in our bodies and half a decade left on the Climate Clock, we continue to walk, even if our legs are fueled only by the foolish passion of our hearts. If earth ever goes gradient, this album and trilogy will be a picturesque elegy of the world as a car going downhill in neutral gear.