There’s something ballsy about an album like Weyes Blood’s Front Row Seat To Earth. Modern technology and short attention spans make it tough to stay relevant. You can’t just be good. You have to be experimental, inventive, loud. But Natalie Mering, with her Mazzy Star instrumentals and Joni Mitchell voice, is just making beautiful, serious folk music. Your mom would probably think this is a great album, and she would be right.
Front Row Seat To Earth is the fourth full length album written, performed and produced by Mering. Weyes Blood lives and works in New York now, but she spent her first few years in Santa Monica. Her music oozes with the blissful, faded folk of 1970s California. Her 2014 album, The Innocents, was an empowering and complex gem. But Front Row Seat finds Mering more focused and mature.
Mering has one of those classic, gentle yet powerful voices that so many singers try and fail to fake. Her husky, melodic croon calls to mind the magic of Nico and Nina. Each vocal delivery has a tangible spark of emotion: you can feel her feel everything that she’s singing. On “Diary,” Mering’s voice grows subtly tense as she recalls her past vices. Then the song relaxes as her voice blends with the shimmering melody.
Every lyric on Front Row Seat is blue-sky clear. There’s no hiding beneath layers of noise. Most tracks are troubled love songs, poetic in their honesty. On “Seven Words” Mering proclaims “in time we’ll both be free/ from this ball and chain/ hangin’ onto things/ I want you mostly in the morning/ when my soul is weak from dreaming.” On “Be Free” she sings “It’s just the two of us/ and I want you to be free/ don’t worry about me/ I got my thing.” The ethereal instrumentals add an unexpected optimism to what is a very sad album about love and alienation. Front Row Seat sparkles on its surface. But Mering is scratching at a dark question we all ask: is it worse to be unhappy or alone?
It’s easy to call Front Row Seat stripped down. Songs like “Used To Be” rely on shimmering rhythmic piano chords, with some simple drums and bass tossed in to give it body. But as the song progresses the lush production emerges. Flying saucer sounds whir in the background; the drums start to roll and pound; trumpets erupt beneath Mering’s overdubbed backing vocals. Weyes Blood is much more than pretty woodstock music. The final track, “Front Row Seat,” is a cacophony of fluctuating orchestral sounds, disembodied voices talking and screaming, trumpets blaring, and piano swelling. A quiet album climaxes in an operatic, “A Day In The Life”-esque explosion.
Mering’s voice trails off as “Generation Why” drifts to an end. “Carry me/ through the waves of change/ I know my place/ it’s a beautiful thing.” Yes, Mering knows her place. And she’s comfortable there.
Listen to Weyes Blood’s Front Row Seat To Earth below.