Natalie Mering’s fifth LP grapples with the separation and alienation we’ve all been feeling thanks to the yawning distance- both physical and cultural- that has thrown modern society such a loop the past few years. While Mering muses about how to cope with unprecedented heart-heaviness, her music takes that darkness and floods it with light and transcendence.
These piano-driven songs, completely modern and hearkening to less mechanized times all at once, balm the wounds with a warm bath of strings, background singers, bells and harp (courtesy of Mary Lattimore) and, of course, Mering’s dulcet and clear voice leading us through. The chord progressions of “Children of the Empire” recall the best of Brian Wilson’s late 60s work with Van Dyke Parks, but temper the elated feelings with the cosmic heartbreak of minor/diminished/augmented progressions inspired by George Harrison. But these influences find a new kind of synthesis that only Mering could accomplish that yields feeling in equal measure with her impassioned lyrics. “God Turn me into a Flower” gets some inspiration from old-time gospel, updated for our times. The words evoke the same concept as “bend like a reed” of Taoism.
As long as I stand to face the crowd
To know my name, to know its sound
It’s good to be soft when they push you down
Oh, God, turn me into a flower
It always takes me, it’s such a curse to be so hard
You shatter easily and can’t pick up all those shards
Simple organ chords and Mering’s passionate voice starts the song perfectly, and it builds to a nature-meets nurture crescendo that’s the most moving thing I’ve heard since Spiritualized’s Songs in A&E.
Kudos also to Subpop for the quiet, distortion-free vinyl. Absolutely stunning. Without a doubt this is my favorite album of 2022.