In Homecoming, the narrative fiction podcast turned Julia Roberts-starring Amazon TV series, Titanic Rising is a joke. It’s a made-up movie, a nonexistent sequel to James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster Titanic. In an elaborate prank, one soldier convinces another that Titanic Rising really exists. But as the show continues, the significance of Titanic Rising changes. It becomes something tragic — a symbol of irreparable loss, a warning about meddling with forces we don’t quite understand, a marker of the kind of slow decline we don’t even notice until it’s too late.
Weyes Blood’s new album is also called Titanic Rising, but it’s no joke. To Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering, Titanic Rising represents the literal rising tide of climate change, and it’s a sequel not just to Titanic the movie but to the sinking of the actual ship. “It just feels so appropriate for the times, because the ship crashed into an iceberg and because for us now the glaciers and the ice is melting, and instead of the ship sinking, third world countries are sinking,” Mering explained in a recent interview. “I feel like it’s kind of ridiculously parallel and the concept of Titanic Rising is more like this slow-moving hubris of man, flooding humanity in a pace that we can’t fully comprehend.”
You get the sense that these kinds of myths and movies are the lens through which Mering sees the world. “The meaning of life doesn’t seem to/ Shine like that screen,” she sings on album centerpiece “Movies,” an ode to cinema as the modern myth-making device. “I know the meaning/ I know the story/ I know the glory/ I love movies.” And you can hear that in her music, too, with its lushly orchestrated throwback to the golden age of ’70s singer-songwriter pop and ’60s Laurel Canyon folk, two musical traditions intimately entwined with the mythical history of her Los Angeles home. She wants to place herself in that lineage, connect herself to something larger. She wants to be in her own myth. She says it herself: “I wanna be in my own movie/ I wanna be the star of mine.”
As much as Weyes Blood sounds like the past, though, Titanic Rising isn’t mere pastiche. Instead, it’s a decisively modern album, born out of the modern world, full of modern fears and anxieties. Imagery of rising tides abounds, but Titanic Rising isn’t really about climate change. It’s not really about any one thing. It’s Mering taking stock of what it means to be alive in the year of our lord 2019, searching for meaning and love and connection in an era that feels on the precipice of an apocalypse, the personal and the political all wrapped up in a tense knot of uncertainty.
“At night I just lay down and cry,” Mering admits on the spacey slide-guitar ballad “Something To Believe,” before asking, “Give me something I can see/ Something bigger and louder than the voices in me/ Something to believe.” On the stripped-down penultimate track “Picture Me Better,” she says that’s she’s “Waiting for the call from beyond/ Waiting for something with meaning/ To come through soon.” And she’s not alone. “Everyone’s broken now/ And no one knows just how/ We could have/ All gotten so far/ From truth,” she sings on “Wild Time,” before adding, almost sardonically, “It’s a wild time/ To be alive.” Tellingly, the album begins and concludes with two different arrangements of the hymn “Nearer, My God, To Thee,” the song that the band on the Titanic supposedly played as the ship went down. The metaphor is clear: The ship is us.
(“Nearer, My God, To Thee” also plays in the doomsday video that CNN will air at the end of the world, and the St. Louis emo band Foxing recently used it as the title of their own album-length grappling with the apocalypse. I guess there’s something in the air.)
Despite all that foreboding, Titanic Rising doesn’t feel hopeless. Maybe that’s because the album is so damn pretty. Mering got her start playing with noisy, experimental acts like Jackie-O Motherfucker and Ariel Pink, and her earliest solo work was haunted, gothically art-damaged folk. But on her 2016 breakthrough Front Row Seat To Earth, she married that sensibility to honest-to-god pop music. Titanic Rising, co-produced by Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, is less of a departure from that sound than an expansion, but it still feels like a leap forward. Everything is bigger and lusher and more ornate. “Everyday,” which sounds something like Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again” covered by a genderbent Father John Misty, is the punchiest pop song she’s ever done. The transcendent climax of “Movies,” with its cosmic synth arpeggio and swirling strings, attains Max Richterian levels of grandiose emotion. And her voice, a rich, crystalline alto, has never sounded better. This is a record to live in and get lost in, a psychedelic galaxy unto itself, full of exquisite textures and details to explore.
Or maybe Titanic Rising doesn’t feel hopeless because to Mering, it’s not hopeless. “Everyday,” a song about the difficulties of finding lasting love in modern society, ends with a discordant tangle of strings and ominous synth drones. But before that, there’s a reprieve: “Lay down my guy/ For a short time/ Heart cannot see/ My love is blind.” Opener “A Lot’s Gonna Change” waxes nostalgic for the innocence of youth and points to an uncertain future, but its sweeping harmonies seem to suggest a certain freedom in leaping into the unknown: “You got what it takes/ In your lifetime/ Try to leave it all behind.” And on “Andromeda,” which finds Mering contemplating other galaxies and “looking up to the sky for something I may never find,” she concludes, “Love is calling/ It’s time to let it through/ Find a love that will make you/ I dare you to try.”
There are no easy answers in our world, and there are no easy answers in Weyes Blood’s, either. Maybe searching for meaning becomes its own meaning, or maybe accepting the fact that we’ll never have any certainty is the way forward. I don’t know. But if we, like the band on the Titanic, really are going down on a sinking ship, Mering seems to say, we may as well play ourselves off. We just might become the stuff of myth.
Other albums of note out this week:
- Priests’ sonically diverse The Seduction Of Kansas.
- PUP’s melodically fired-up pop-punk explosion Morbid Stuff.
- Control Top’s furious punk onslaught Covert Contracts.
- John Vanderslice’s textured, shapeshifting The Cedars.
- The Drums’ poppy, vulnerable Brutalism.
- Patio’s incisive DIY-rock debut Essentials.
- Khalid’s easy-listening R&B-pop effort Free Spirit.
- Club Night’s chaotic, energetic What Life.
- Martha’s rousing The Void.
- Girl Unit’s slinky dance-music return Song Feel.
- La Luz frontwoman Shana Cleveland’s Sun Ra-inspired Night Of The Worm Moon.
- This Is The Kit bassist Rozi Plain’s solo debut What A Boost.
- Adult Mom’s acoustic covers collection Some Covers.
- Ratso’s collab-heavy journo-rock album Stubborn Heart.
- Flying Fish Cove’s nostalgic twee-pop debut At Moonset.
- Isasa’s instrumental guitar sprawl Insilio.
- Jai Wolf’s dancey synth-popper The Cure To Loneliness.
- Circa Waves’ British rocker What’s It Like Over There?.
- Partner’s Saturday The 14th EP.
- Gurr’s She Says EP.