Occasionally, I hit upon on a certain type of record. Let’s call them “easy to admire, harder to love” (or in text speak ETAHOL (or maybe not on reflection)).
These records are generally well written, musically skilful but not quite setting the pulse racing despite one’s brain recognising the qualities. The Divine Comedy and the National are two bands that come to mind. They should be my cup of char but I just don’t connect with them.
I’ve been listening to Titanic Rising a great deal during April. It’s Natalie Mering aka Weyes Blood’s fourth album, her first on Seattle’s Sub Pop label. It’s been produced by Jonathan Rado of Foxygen, who I last caught up with at the Spacebomb evening at the Barbican. Spacebomb isn’t a bad touchstone for Titanic Rising, musically lush with strings and keyboard textures.
Weyes Blood has created an album that is exceptionally well crafted. The melodies are clear and direct. The harmonies are deep and oceanic. Her vocals are smooth and crystalline, not a note out of place. If you are thinking Karen Carpenter, Carole King or Christine McVie, you are heading in the right direction – praise indeed.
But it just hasn’t quite clicked with me. It isn’t bad in the way that, say, the Audiobooks LP of last year was. I’m still coming back to it but it feels like I’m trying to get my head to win over my heart. It has some of the MOR textures that John Grant’s debut album had but whilst the vocals are up there, the humour that JG brings is missing. The sleeve shows Weyes floating in her bedroom and this does add to the sense of it being connected to something like Carole King’s Tapestry.
In a recent interview with Stereogum (which mostly focussed on how the sleeve was photographed), Weyes said when asked about what the record would be telling people:
I guess the aesthetic and vision is just to wake people up to the pre-conditions of your psychology. If you’ve been spending time wondering what’s wrong with you, maybe that’s what’s wrong with you.
That’s the danger with intellectually driven art rock. The idea and the execution can end up being a little dry if there isn’t a sense of humour involved that is inclusive. Take Everyday below. The video’s set in a classic 70s hangout. It’s all board games and flared trousers but a slasher movie link is crow-barred in. It just feels that we aren’t in on the joke.
I’m not ditching the album and it undoubtedly has its qualities. I’ll probably give it a go periodically in the coming months. There’s a world of music to listen to out there and I’ve got things to do, places to go, people to meet.