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

Do flower children still inhabit a dying planet? Will there be anything left of the garden? On an increasingly ambitious series of records over the past decade, Natalie Mering, who records as Weyes Blood, has sought answers to these riddles.

The 34-year-old L.A. singer/songwriter resurrects the sound of late '60s and early '70s West Coast folk-rock to address more contemporary existential crises, like digital-era loneliness and climate change. "California's my body, and your fire runs over me," she sings on "Grapevine," a highlight from her stunning new album. That lyric, like many of Mering's best, succinctly intertwines the personal sorrow of heartbreak with the shared tragedy of environmental catastrophe.

Mering's distinct alto has the opalescence of Karen Carpenter's voice and the enveloping benevolence of Cass Elliot's, though as a songwriter she shares a certain millennial poeticism with Lana Del Rey. Over time, Mering has learned not only to trust her voice's beauty, but to depict beauty and even softness itself as a subversive tool. On the surface, "And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow" often sounds angelic but there's a foreboding sense of apocalypse in the periphery.

Every so often, Mering's imperative to speak big-tent truths can become strained and make her lyrics frustratingly vague, as on "Children of the Empire," but Mering's impassioned performance on a gorgeous vocal melody lifts the song beyond its limitations.

Even her most on-the-nose "pandemic song," "The Worst Is Done," is most vivid when she's singing about her individual experience: "I should've stayed with my family. I shouldn't have stayed in my little place in the world's loneliest city."

That grounding in personal experience, though, is what elevates "Grapevine" and "God Turn Me Into a Flower." However temporarily, she's become a more modern kind of flower child, sunk blissfully into the fecund earth that — for now — hasn't yet been scorched beyond repair.


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