“I’m a frustrated filmmaker,” Joni Mitchell told New York Magazine back in 2006. “A fan once said to me, “Girl, you make me see pictures in my head!” and I took that as a great compliment. That’s exactly my intention.”
The Joni Mitchell/Weyes Blood comparison is apparent in many ways: their rich, theatrical folk stylings, their meditative, trance-inducing altos, their penchant for layered storytelling that winds in and out of the personal and the philosophical. But beyond the surface, their most artistically lucrative similarity — one that surpasses any aesthetic sameness and still encapsulates their many differences — is their residence in an elite class of songwriters whose catalogue has the honor of being unequivocally cinematic. Weyes Bloods’ (Natalie Mering) latest album Titanic Rising — out on April 12 via Sub Pop and available to stream now via NPR first listen — solidifies the brilliant cinematic nature of her craft, while also turning the cinema itself into a thematic vessel.
The track “Movies” — a haze of Merling’s sustained, layered vocal harmony over a bubbling, repetitive synth — discusses the myths films bestow upon us and the ways in which they alter our perception and desires (“I'm bound to that summer/ Big box office hit/ Making love to a counterfeit”). The muddy drones of the one-and-a-half-minute instrumental title track, “Titanic Rising,” conjure up cinematic images, like the one of Mering on the cover, of a world entirely submerged under water.
“The reason Titanic has such a huge symbolism for me, not only was it engineered for little girls, but it showed the hubris of man in the late ’90s, the hubris of man is getting pretty intense and I think we all could sense something was about to happen and it was gonna be really bad,” Mering told Vinyl Me, Please 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, kind of like a frog boiling in water. No matter how big of a movie you could make about the whole concept, no matter how big of an impact that movie had on my life, we’re still struggling to fight against these men who continuously choose to assume that we have control.”
While the folk genre is sometimes framed as outdated or beyond its prime, Weyes Blood reinvents folk traditions, sonically and otherwise, proving the genre’s relevance, its necessity on Titantic. Mering expertly finds and draws from our modern day lore — even (dare I say, especially) if that lore is sourced from ’90s Leonardo DiCaprio films — and rewrites it for the increasingly pressing problems we face, most notably climate change in this case.
On my personal album highlight, “Something to Believe,” a massive, theatrical ballad, she sings a burnout battle cry of American late capitalism, “Got lost in the fray / I gave all I had for a time / Then by some strange design, I got a case of the empties,” before her repeated pleas for something bigger to believe in. But despite the cold, honesty reality it portrays, the track, and the entirety of Titanic Rising itself, never verges on desperation or despair, it just keeps on telling its story.