Natalie Mering, the brains behind the indie-folk outfit Weyes Blood, has seen a great deal of the country in the past few years. She has toured as a member of noise-rock outfit Jackie-O Motherfucker and alongside Nautical Almanac, although most listeners will recognize her robustly forlorn voice from Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti’s Mature Themes. After the release of her 2011 label debut, The Outside Room, she has wandered America like a Steinbeck character (anyone who adapts her stage name from a Flannery O’Connor novel will certainly be familiar with literary references). Mering tapped maple trees for syrup in rural Kentucky and studied herbs in the New Mexico desert. After a brief layover in Baltimore, she settled into the New York music scene and signed with Mexican Summer.
All of those experiences—from harsh drone to hallucinogenic herbology—come to play on her second album, The Innocents (which is presumably a reference to the 1961 film adaptation of Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw”). The album plays like a picaresque of the Lower 48, as Mering collects sounds and ideas along her journey and pieces them together into an album that has considerable scope yet is rooted in the personal. Drawing from Donovan and Joan Baez as well as Mark Linkous and Sonic Youth, Mering blends the idylls of folk ballads and madrigals with the sonic abrasiveness of noise rock. Most of the songs feature just guitar and Mering’s rich soprano, but on several tracks she manipulates the instruments to suggest music that is curdling, fading, transforming, evolving right before our ears. Even the simplest and loveliest tunes, such as “Requiem for Forgiveness” or closer “Bound to Earth”, sound like they might be interrupted at any moment by waves of distortion.
To indulge another literary reference, the center will not hold. Things fall apart. There is no solid ground on The Innocents. The album opens with explosions in the distance, a rhythm of destruction that portends something darkly ominous. Borrowing not just the music but also the topicality of ’60s folk, “Land of Broken Dreams” conveys a sense of immense dread as Mering sings about an America in fantastical disrepair—in particular, the growing rift between what the country should be and what it actually is. “Stand by to believe in the land of the free, whatever you want it to be,” she sings, and it’s impossible to determine just how much irony is packed into that line. Are those explosions an echo of atomic testing in the 1950s, or perhaps of the bombs planted by radical activists in the 1970s?
The aftershocks of those opening explosions reverberate throughout the album. “Bad Magic” sets its delicate acoustic guitar theme against an ambient tape hiss, as though Mering were self-consciously creating a new field recording. “Some Winters” opens with a warped piano, its glissandos garbled and mutating, as though Mering found the tapes buried deep in the snow—memories of an old affair made new. “I’m as broken as a woman can be,” she sings, with a peculiar quiver in her voice. That vibrato, it becomes clear, is not part of the performance itself, but a subtle distortion of the notes in the studio. It’s applied so sparingly that it’s impossible to determine where her voice ends and the manipulation takes over, and the effect is thematically powerful and musically jarring. There’s no small thrill in hearing Mering both uphold and upend the conventions and even the pieties of folk music, which means that while The Innocents may be her second album, it plays like a debut. These finely wrought songs introduce a fascinating and confidently subversive artist and offers a glimpse of the road she’s traveling.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/12XQ5kk