EXCHANGE REVIEW FROM OUR ITALIAN PENPALS
By Paolo Bardelli

Continuing our successful collaboration with the leading Italian music publication Kalporz , the Monolith Cocktail shares reviews, interviews and other bits from our respective sites each month. Keep an eye out for future ‘synergy’ between our two great houses as we exchange posts during 2022 and beyond.

This month Kalporz head honcho Paolo Bardelli assesses the new album from Weyes Blood.

Weyes Blood ‘And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow’
(Sub Pop) 

There has been a lot of talk about “lockdown music”: here And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow could be defined as the first real album in the post-Covid world. More than for the sound, it is the themes addressed by Weyes Blood that make this new work of hers a point of reference for the era we shyly approach, that of overcoming pain in the context of a more or less latent dystopia. Natalie’s mastery is evident because she manages to transfigure the personal plane into the universal one, and more or less everyone has noticed it if it is true that And in the Darkness … was elected album of the month for practically all Italian magazines, print and online (and for us Weyes Blood is the cover artist of the month too).

From a musical point of view Weyes Blood completes that journey towards the sounds of the early 70s of groups such as The Carpenters and Carly Simon, that elegiac soft rock in which the piano and certain evocative atmospheres were the masters, already begun with the sublime Titanic Rising but by subtracting that small synthetic part that was still in the 2019 album. And in the Darkness… therefore becomes a sort of restart where everything is destroyed, with basic if not primordial instrumentation as can be that of pianos and orchestrations of violins to mark the need to build the new world from the ground up. But, be careful, there is an aspect that should be emphasised to those who might dismiss the sound part as a mere reprise of what it was: Mering expresses herself in a fully contemporary way, because, unlike the references we have mentioned, in her a hidden suffering predominates which is different from the fiercely pop humus (we could also define it as “escape”) of The Carpenters and similar artists. Indeed, more than suffering Weyes Blood demonstrates an almost pathological detachment, a medical-legal ability to dissect and analyse life and human relationships as if she were distant from them, as if she were not part of them. And in this sense she fits very well with her statement to The Forty-Five “I like to think that my music, instead of being entertainment, is more of a charm”. Here is the keyword: enchantment. What Mering manages is to make us stand there silent and astonished listening to her musical streams, minimal and majestic at the same time, in a sort of enchanted ecstasy in which her thoughts become ours: in short, an almost religious communion (it is no coincidence that the cover surprises her as a sort of new saint).

From a textual point of view, however, everything should be clear because Weyes Blood published a letter, last September, in which she explained the themes of her new test deals with, to be considered the second of a trilogy that began precisely with Titanic Rising. The central points would be mainly three: (1) being immersed in an era of instability and changes without return, (2) technology that is distancing us from people and (3) the heart, that muscle in our chest that perhaps out of modesty no one mentions it anymore as the meaning of things (but not Natalie, who makes it throb on the cover), as a necessary guide and hope in a dark period. In reality, a journey into the lyrics of And in the Darkness… must be accomplished by immersing oneself completely in them and not limiting oneself to uncritically flattening oneself to what was the intention of the author, albeit so clearly expressed. The works, when they come out from the authors, belong to those who receive them, and are ready to take on their own meanings and to travel autonomously around the world to give their own perspective to those who want to enjoy them. It is a job we cannot shirk.

The initial observation (in ‘It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody’) is that all these changes, the pandemic in primis but also the technology well represented by the mobile phone always in hand which is actually a “hole” ( “With this hole in my hand” ), have made us strangers to each other, and perhaps even to ourselves:

Living in the wake of overwhelming changes 

We’ve all become strangers

 
Even to ourselves

But it is the sphere of human relationships, in any case, the one on which we inevitably set out again, trying to transcend the monotony of our daily jobs and our having stopped having fun, more particularly in search of that kindred soul, that ” twin flame” (‘Twin Flame’) that can lead us to have fun “at the Ferris wheel” (from ‘Hearts Aglow’):

Oh, I’ve just been working 

For years and I stopped having fun 


Oh, but baby, you’re the only one

 
Who would drive me down to the pier

 
Take me up on that ferris wheel

Weyes thus becomes like the spokesperson for a generation of thirty-year-olds (she, was born in 1988, and is 34) who are looking for their place in the world, and are always poised between yearning to find “great love” (“Cause I’ve been waiting for my life to begin / For someone to light up my heart again”) or to remain faithful to themselves as in the invocation of being transformed into beautiful flowers that perhaps will never truly blossom (‘God Turn Me Into a Flower’). The reference is to the myth of Narcissus, evidently updated here to the times of Instagram, whose obsession with a reflection in a tub leads him to starve and lose all perception other than his infatuation.

Above all, Mering gives us a truly superb, carnal and vivid text in the song Grapevine’: she remembers a love, an “emotional cowboy with no hat and no boots” that made her burn with passion (“California’s my body / And your fire runs over me” ) but who took his love away like a child with a ball (“He has the power to take his love away” ). In this recalling his nocturnal longing would be to return to the vineyard where perhaps they made love all night long, lying in the meadows, in a bucolic image full of life and love (“But I still think of him at night / Ooh, you know I would go back to the camp” ) and instead now they’re just like “Now we’re just two cars passing by on the grapevine”. The image that I see when reading this closing sentence is of two parallel carts harvesting, on two roads that will never meet, and therefore there is no happy ending.

Mering, with her writing always a bit over the top in that being a bit apocalyptic (perhaps a legacy of having been raised by Pentecostal Christian parents), also very clearly identifies who can improve this stalemate of people “who don’t know where we’re going” (“We don’t know where we’re going” shesings in ‘Hearts Aglow’) and that is only the new generations: in fact on ‘Children of the Empire’she heralds the dawn of a new man (“The dawning of a brand new man”) in which only children can change things (“Children of the empire wanna change”) in search of the “eternal flame”, i.e. the reason why we really live. It’s not about surviving, it’s about burning with life.

And the concluding message is perfectly focused: it has been a “long and strange year” (there are almost three now, to tell the truth), we find ourselves immersed in a different world and we ourselves are different, they say that the worst is over and it’s time to go out, to have fun, to look to the future (from ‘The Worst is Done’) but, in reality, Weyes concludes in a certainly ironic way given that the accompanying music is lively, we are broken, we feel older and the worst is yet to come.

It’s been a long, strange year […] They say the worst is done And it’s time to go out […]

We’re all so cracked after that/ Got kinda old […]

But I think the worst has yet to come

But Weyes Blood doesn’t worry about all this, she observes it, scrutinizes it, analyzes it, but then goes her own way which is inevitably spiritual because her approach appears almost ascetic. The goal, as she says, is “understanding the natural cycles of life and death”, and listening to the album leaves in our souls an awareness that perhaps is taken for granted but which we often forget: that in the darkness, in dark times, hearts light up and shine even brighter.

80/100

(Paul Bardelli)

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