Some artists are best discovered on a whim, and Weyes Blood is one of them. Several years ago, while wandering down a side alley in Lisbon, I stopped at an unmarked record store and asked the owner for a recommendation, something that he was proud to own. He left the counter, walked to a section labelled “GOTHIC FOLK/ELECTRONICA,” and pulled out The Outside Room. One minute into “Romneydale”, I was grinning foolishly. Two minutes in, I was rifling through my wallet for cash. The voice coming out of the speakers was too haunting to walk away from. Now, three years after that debut LP dropped, Weyes Blood is back — and The Innocents lives up to the inescapably romantic hopes fans have held for her follow-up.
Natalie Mering, aka Weyes Blood, has the articulate sangfroid of a songwriter on the rise. The ex-Jackie-O Motherfucker member and Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti associate pens heavy emotional material built on isolation and conflict. Even with a Flannery O’Connor moniker and Capote-nodding album title, Weyes Blood isn’t looking to deceive. She’s learning how to construct songs that breathe with possession.
Weyes Blood’s charm lies in the regal tones of her voice. She amps up that somber, deadpan delivery of Nico by letting her notes hum a little longer, verging on Angel Olsen’s style of warbling. All three are musicians who sing with a sense of detachment, but Mering also peers into the chasm of an emotional collapse after digging her feet deep into the ground. It’s a color-by-number tracklist that lets Weyes Blood’s antique sketches be filled in freely with our own emotions.
While her debut album saw heavy use of reverb and drone, The Innocents cleans itself up with sparse piano and guitar, calling upon medieval folk in lieu of gypsy hypnotics. It begins tongue in cheek with perky mandolin before parting for “Hang On”, her summative single, and whisking up risky, moonlit narcotics. Stylistically, it fits the grandiose orchestrations of Julia Holter. On Mering’s own terms, though, it’s so much more. Creepy found footage audio, possibly of a fake murder, closes out “Montrose” before waves of waterlogged synths swallow it back up.
The Innocents is worth picking up if only for “Bad Magic” alone. The slow pluck of Mering’s guitar cradles each word that leaves her mouth as she outlines death with insanity and melancholic escapism. Even the smoky gloom of “Requiem of Forgiveness” is eventually joined by a vocoder, bringing a renaissance touch to an otherwise terrifying track.
Alongside Perfume Genius’ soft, perennial piano that conveys a young man’s spirit, Weyes Blood makes her contribution a hefty contender in this year’s undeniably rich pile of singer-songwriters. “Some Winters”, her piano ballad, delivers the heartbreak of a young woman seeking solace in choral harmonies and distant hieroglyphics.The Innocents is earthy melodrama for catacombs that deserves to be heard above ground. Weyes Blood’s gothic, magical realm has a dozen more doors to be opened on her sophomore LP. It’s just a matter of when the record ends up in your hands.
Essential tracks: “Bad Magic”, “Some Winters”, and “Hang On”