According to Natalie Mehring, who writes music under the pseudonym Weyes Blood, the heart is like a glow stick. “You crack it and it glows,” she told The Guardian last month, reflecting on the holy envelope of “And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow.” “It’s about the power of your heart being so broken that it radiates light.”
The Los Angeles-based artist, who played in several underground noise bands before her solo debut in 2011, says her fifth album is the second part of a musical triptych. The breakthrough of 2019, “Rise of the Titanic,” formed the first panel: a grandiose prediction of all-encompassing doom, it was filled with sweeping orchestral arrangements and painful, beautiful songs about the impending collapse of life as we knew it then. Although Mehring could hardly have foreseen the fateful events that would occur next year — a pandemic that exposed and aggravated the already festering wounds of inequality — the ominous foresight of the record drew from the hellish landscape of fallen trees and raging floods. “Now everyone is broken, and no one knows exactly how,” she sang in “Wild Time,” a standout track that recalled the classic songwriting of “Tapestry” by Carole King and “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell.
Drawing on a similar palette of songwriting and vibrant, restless chamber pop, “And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow” finds itself at the center of a swirling tornado; the isolation its predecessor predicted is now entirely upon us. Just as sunsets become infinitely more beautiful when they are filled with pollutants that refract the sun, Mering’s own vision of the end of the world is intricately woven and rich in melody, even when loneliness hurts deep down. “Mercy is the only cure for such loneliness,” she sings in the first song It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everyone, a tender and sad ode to common sadness. “Has time ever been more revealing that people are hurting?” Here, the world is not falling apart under a billowing mushroom cloud or a wayward meteor; its disintegration is thinner and harder to detect as we all steadily move away from each other. Like in Skeeter Davis’ 1962 classic country pop “The End of the World” or in Matt Maltese’s more modern epic “How the World Collapses,” for Mehring, the real beauty of the world comes from people who love each other inside it. When these ties are severed, the real last times begin.
Written when Mering was locked up in Los Angeles with her dog Luigi, “And in the dark, Burning Hearts” deftly avoids directly touching the pandemic with clunky references that will quickly become obsolete. Instead, a more vague, more sinister sense of isolation casts a shadow over the entire record, although the pain of loss is quickly replaced by an insistent desire for unity. Mehring’s obvious view of a broken heart seems rather optimistic: a broken heart is a symbol that someone was vulnerable enough, brave enough, brave enough to open up to pain in the first place.
Both in the first track dedicated to the study of collective pain, and in the shimmering central part of “Hearts Aglow”, the preserved bonds inspire hope. “It was a death march, the whole world is collapsing,” Mehring sings in the last, swooning number with elements of the 70s. “Oh, baby, let’s dance on the sand.” She also explores where this thirst to find meaning through others comes from in the first place: “We are looking for ointment everywhere, but not in ourselves,” explains Mehring in a letter written to the record.
“And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow” raises more questions than answers, but the closest to the answer, perhaps, lies the mesmerizing “God, turn me into a flower.” Here, Mehring retells the myth of Narcissus — a Greek hunter who falls in love with his own reflection — and in the process gently touches on the themes of technology and online individualism. “You see a reflection, you want it more than the truth… but the person on the other side has always been just you,” she sings. After a lifetime of contemplating his flowing likeness, the Narcissus turns into a bright yellow narcissus, swaying in the wind and slowly rotating facing the sun. Being malleable, open and more gentle, it seems that Mering suggests that perhaps we can save ourselves from the doom in which this amazing record is located.