And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow is a more spiritual and communal record for Weyes Blood, speaking to both the personal and universal with delicate savvy.
Natalie Mering’s fifth solo album has arrived, and it’s an ethereal glimpse into a mind in a state of unrest. And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow explores the troubling realities that define her recent trilogy of albums under the Weyes Blood moniker (this being the second), a confirmation that the forewarning of 2019’s Titanic Rising was correct and that everything is, in fact, terrible. It’s a perspective that builds from turmoil, with the personal giving way to the global in a precise expression of the dark emotional ferment. Pulling this material off, and particularly evolving it across three albums, is a freighted task without veering into overly broody drama, but Weyes Blood here handles it in a beautiful, singular manner.
At first blush, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow might seem to some a vacant record, what with its sparse instrumentation and effects-laden vocals. But as the layers on each track begin to form — and inform each other — there’s a warmth and familiarity that follows. Despite the album’s clear personal bent, the songs are framed around distinctly relatable subject matter, from break-ups to enervating despair at the world around her. Mering herself describes the album as reflecting the “feeling of being in the thick of it,” certainly a universal feeling and rallying point for listeners, and one invoked through lyrics that frequently arise from the perspective of “we” and not “I.” The result is a record that leans less toward into the language of therapy than it does the language of religion, especially notable on sprawling, 6-minute opener “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody,” described by the artist as a sort of Buddhist anthem: “Mercy is the only / cure for being so lonely. / Has a time ever been more revealing / that the people are hurting?” Indeed, each track seems to point to the same underlying idea, one that sees one’s own suffering always echoed in others, which can (quite intentionally) be seen as either a comforting or distressing notion depending on where you’re standing.
The tracks on And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow never extend to quick beats or an up-tempo vocal, but they also never overstay their welcome, with Mering’s voice delicately draped over the sounds of harps, guitar, and piano. There’s a distinctly meditative feel to the project, which likewise feeds into the religious texture it suggests. But that’s not to say it ever comes registers as a “record about god,” as Mering prefers to draw unseen spiritual lines directly between individuals rather between human and deity. Just look at her yearnings for connection on “Hearts Aglow,” for example, which point to a purpose of forging connections for the sake of letting go of, or redefining, the universe around you, even if only fleetingly: “I was so bored, take me to the water, babe. / Show me what it’s like to be yours.” But in keeping her lyrics in a minor key here, balancing grand existential concerns with intimate scenes of fragile humanity, Mering offers up clearly formed themes while refusing to beat listeners over the head with any histrionics; participating in Hearts Aglow feels like an invitation rather than ultimatum.
Which is to say, Weyes Blood moves her trilogy along in spectacular fashion, delivering a listening experience that is carefully constructed and decidedly communal. The spiritual presence that is more felt on this record, which perhaps reflects a connection to Mering’s Pentecostal roots, offers a rare opportunity at such connection between audience and artist outside of the christian contemporary music, and feels far more genuine than that narrow and prefab scene. With the triad coming to a close on the next record, listeners can now only wonder what further revelations and beguiling moves will be brought forth then. For now, the meditations of And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow will do plenty to pass the time, and if we’re lucky, help to calm our stormy souls.