On “Movies,” the new song from Weyes Blood released today, Natalie Mering’s mournful alto rings out: “The meaning of life doesn’t seem to shine like that screen.” For many of us, films and TV teach our formative lessons about fundamental aspects of existence – like love, family, and relationships. In doing so, they also set us up for disappointment. Life, after all, is never like the movies.
When I met with Mering earlier this year to discuss Titanic Rising, the upcoming Weyes Blood album on which “Movies” appears, we spoke about how cinema can often sell us lies about how we’re supposed to live, even about our very selves. “When I went through puberty I had a huge rebellion against movies. I was so upset with how they brainwashed me that I didn’t watch movies for years,” she told me. “I couldn’t watch them, I’d just start and be like, ‘This is bullshit. This is not how it is, how dare they make me think that’s how it is?’”
These sorts of sentiments seem to inform “Movies” at its heart. Over the course of its five minutes, Mering’s voice – layered and in harmony with itself – pines for the sort of life that media promises us we can all have. “I know the meaning / I know the story / I know the glory / I love movies,” she sings. Even though she acknowledges that Hollywood’s sparkling, dramatic mirages aren’t realistic, it’s not a stretch to see why someone might hope to escape into them as an alternative to reality in all its hardship, as the world burns to ever more noxious ashes.
Interestingly, “Movies” feels musically indebted to film, and opens with the sort of electronic oscillations which wouldn’t feel out of place in the background of a scene in a thriller. While her feelings about the ideologies that movies sell us are complex, Mering told me that as both a fan and practitioner of instrumental music, soundtracks are some of her most significant influences.
“The only outlet in mainstream culture for classical and more experimental music to be heard is through movie soundtracks, and they’re such a wonderful display of emotion,” she explained. I think the guy that did that best is Stanley Kubrick, working with Wendy Carlos who is an electronic composer. I’ve always tried to create music the way Kubrick makes film, just kind of mimicking consciousness. He has a way of mimicking this greater power.” Over the course of Titanic Rising – as well as on “Movies” (which, in a very human sense, holds the conflicting viewpoints of knowing that media is lying to us, and to some degree wanting to consume those lies anyway) Mering too echoes consciousness. The album feels like a process of realisation; of coming to terms with the fact that the world is as it is, and ending on a note that suggests hope might lie in our relationships with each other. It’s full of interrogations of overarching world issues – climate change, culture as we know it – filtered through Mering’s personal perspective. Speaking on this, she commented: “I’m always thinking about the bigger picture and always feeling so much for everybody else, and kind of experiencing the pain of the world, personally. And so I couldn’t help but to write about these really larger-than-life ideas, but through my personal lens.”
Alongside establishing these more straightforward interests, however, Mering ranges into more experimental territory. Titanic Rising features a number of instrumental tracks, and one of these, the title song, acts as a kind of interlude, sitting between the album’s two halves. She calls it a “separation point, because the first part of the record is more about love and hope, and then we kind of go into more of an existential sub-zone, and the record takes a different turn.”
Emotional and sonic nuance is important to this album, and this is most especially reflected in the second half. This is where “Movies” sits, as it grapples with two very human impulses – wanting to reject movies, and wanting to be a part of them – at once. Across this record, Mering acknowledges that being human is a complicated, often tangled-up game. Indeed, even its title, Titanic Rising, is a contradiction.
The Titanic disaster was about something enormous sinking, vanishing from view; but its film adaptation, which Mering is actively referencing here, creates a love story out of tragedy. While this album often feels elegiac, as Mering’s voice looms and languid strings proliferate, it’s ultimately threaded through with hope – with the idea that attempting to understand the world, to accept that this is sometimes not possible, and to love and know each other regardless (as on the fantastic, genuinely Carole King-reminiscent “Picture You Better”). It’s a message which couldn’t really be better timed.
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