“I stand apart from the rest, I had so much to give. Where does my life go?“. With all the chaos happening the world, it sometimes feels like there’s a right time to detach from the surroundings and view it with a satellite perspective or from a cinema seat with bitter-tasting popcorn in hand.
Although Natalie Mering’s dreamy contralto channels the soothing voice of 1970’s folk singer-songwriter Karen Carpenter in such a peaceful Sunday afternoon way (something that producer Drugdealer took advantage of when recruiting her for his own seventies-inspired collaborative song “Suddenly“, released in the early summer), the Philadelphia 29-year-old ponders about issues of this decade on her second LP Front Row Sea To Earth.
Humanity’s essential attachment to mobile phones is highlighted on “Generation Why” – a track cleverly titled to express the confusion of a generation born between the 1980’s and 2000’s. She sings of the worrying technological addiction: “Going to see the end of days. I’ve been hanging on my phone all day. And the fear goes away. I might not need to stay“, as blood drips from her ear in the accompanying music video.
Then she u-turns her thoughts, realising that it’s just society’s way of staying connected to the world as a united tribe when harmonising the internet acronym Y-O-L-O (You Only Live Once) in an ethereal fashion. It’s worth noting that in many areas of the album, her flowing voice is just one key away from sounding like Enya or when manipulated the echoey Imogen Heap, giving the folk an added edge.
Natalie Merling observes another important world problem in global warming on the gospel-influenced “Seven Words“: “Now I face tomorrow. It’s starting to burn and I wanna go home. Only home I’ve known. Lost in the storm“. This concern about the ecosystem is also reflected on the album cover to Front Row Sea To Earth, which was photographed at The Salton Sea, a Californian lake that’s become toxic for fish.
However it’s clear by the lyrics that many of the tracks explore the nuances between relationship termination and non-romantic tragedies rather three-dimensionally making it appeal to the heart and the mind. Examples include: “The world I knew just fell through and left me outside and we may be blind more than others” from “Do You Need My Love?“, and “It’s sad to dream. It constantly seems. Like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel” from “Be Free“.
Furthermore, the short films that assist her songs, display a sense of playful humour and metaphor that add an extra layer to her likable mindset – from a mermaid storyline to the Lars Von Trier directional style of a gender cross-dressing narrative of the aforementioned “Seven Words” and “Do You Need My Love?” respectively.
Merling has recently moved to Los Angeles, the home of Julia Holter and two songwriters have a similar path musically. Both Holter and Merling started off their careers started off with darker more experimental lo-fi music suitable for nocturnal hours, before being filtered to more focused yet still praiseworthy arty folk appropriate for the lighter hours. As their careers have blossomed they still maintain this humbleness and charming sense of comfortable loneliness and pride of being an independent soul.
Merling recorded Front Row Sea To Earth with the only other person in the room being engineer Chris Cohen. The music warrants the same kind of solitary confinement to truly appreciate it’s personal touch. The overlap A Capella of her own voice at the beginning of “Away Above” (this was also a technique used in Karen Carpenter records, and recently to extreme inventiveness by Agnes Obel) further aid this ambience.
The records ends with a spooky theatrical instrumental title track that recycles screams, operatic balladry and environmental chatter (also included on “Be Free”) and radiates A Clockwork Orange goosebumps. It beautifully closes the red curtains on the production that is life. You may now leave your front row seat.
Purchase Weyes Blood’s Front Row Seat To Earth on iTunes here.
Words by Matt Hobbs