Today's weather forecast predicts rain, pain, moths and tombstones. Best pack an umbrella.
Picture this. A field in England. The year of our Lord 1645. A crisp, wintry dawn breaks across a tragi-glorious landscape ravaged by civil war and reeking of pain and pestilence. These boggy moors of middle England are your new home now as sadly you've recently found yourself in contention with Mr. Witchfinder General himself, Matthew Hopkins, regarding "Nefarious lunar activities". Yes, you are a ghost. Yes, like Bruce Willis. So make yourself comfortable and give the leeches and rats wide berth. This picture was the odd, "ye olde worldy" cryptic magick conjured by Weyes Blood's début The Outside Room. In America. In 2013. Dusty, muddy, drowning, hypnotic and bloody...and bloody creepy. If that was Outside prepare to step "inside". But bring your wellies; this could still get messy.
It's probably safe to suggest Weyes Blood's Natalie Mering is an old soul. Not your typical bump n' grind, "No Moët-No Show-ay", 21st century pop star. A multi-instrumentalist and one time apprentice herbalist whose father slipped the sunfried '70s West Coast music scene to become a Christian congregation leader, Mering cut her teeth with the likes of Jackie-O Motherfucker, Axolotl and Ariel Pink. Yeah, those weirdo types your folks warned you about. Her second record, The Innocents, arrives inspired by Jack Clayton's spellbinding, '60s-spookfest reworking of Henry James' 1898 Gothic griever Turn of the Screw. Its themes of loss, loneliness and the poisoned decay of youthful dreams haunt the hallways and stairwells of The Innocents. Shiver ye not though, for Mering's impressive return hugs a little warmer than before, delivering a more cathartic experience with flickers of hope and even -- zoiks! -- glimmers of sly, subtle humor. Not just gallows humor either.
First blood "Land of Broken Dreams" finds Mering as sole survivor on the battlefield -- "The failure of some man's world" -- wrapped in whistling winds and gun smoke, strumming a mandolin in salute to fallen comrades. A battle is won, a war is lost. The sweet melody bunny hops around the ashes. Evoking Eddie Vedder's sad shanties from Into the Wild, its lyrics strike prophetic and cursed, at odds with the exalted giddiness of the tune: "We were just born to buy then die and change nothing." Lana Del Rey in the time of cholera kicking against the consumerism and self-obsessed vanity of our modern age. As throughout, Mering's voice is the star attraction. Soulful, sage and stirring deep, a heady brew of Nico, Beth Gibbons and Sandy Denny.
Recent single "Hang on", though, sounds more like Cate Le Bon's recent excursions. Wistful, pastoral folk but slightly unhinged, slightly medieval. A mantra for survival, a candle in the dark, "Till the end alone...I will hang on when the rains come." Onward toward the light! It ain't over 'til someone with a blue face bellows "FREEDOMMM!!" The lush, lilting warped waterfall piano arpeggios of "Some Winters" subsequently feel disembodied, distorted, ethereal. Scenes from the other side. Slo-mo skipping through the pearly gates. Mering sings a lament of "Shame" as if walking barefoot across ice. Delicate, fragile, glacial. "Go on leave me for the last time." Oh the roses in the snow, "I wish we could still be friends...but we won't." Got chills, they're multiplying.
But here comes the sun and it's alright. Maybe. The appropriately titled "Summer" rolls like Joan Baez stretched out in the grass making daisy chains in July. "I can't wait for the time to be alone" it pines, tossing pebbles into the lake. "I will be forever yours / At least until this fall" it wisecracks endearingly, throwing some light between the crying Caspers. The tide turns again for album highlight numero uno with the hymnal "Requiem for Forgiveness". A prog sci-fi intro summons Mering in ceremonially towards the altar of Albinoni's "Adagio in G Minor". Yeah the Doors' one. What follows is achingly depressing but -- ain't it always the way? -- exquisitely beautiful. "Days in my life are numbered and so rare." A multi-layered choir of Merings swoon like resurrected souls beckoning from a mountain top monastery. Heavenly. Terrifying. Album apex part deux appears shortly after with the dead of night ballad "Bad Magic". "Make the best of death" it warns and you suspect partytime's over. Mering now sounds cracked, exhausted, weeping under starlight clutching one broken heart and a battered guitar. "The sky don't shine on me anymore" it sobs like a suicidal Sibylle Baier channelling "Love Hurts" whilst emptying her cabinet of Diazepam. "Pretty tragic on a runaway train!" Utterly riveting from first note to "car horn in the background" close. It'll properly fuck you up. Welcome to the Dead Zone.
After such haymaker hits to the heart, the last act of The Innocents feels slightly anaemic and pales a little comparatively. The wintry tombstones of "February Skies" seem like a backward step into safer, more familiar pathways despite a charming, harlequin-esque keyboard pirouette to the fade, "Fool or folly / Choose your doorway!" Similarly, "Ashes" tumbles through the castle halls with a jolly jaunt but musically haunts the memory less. Yet its lyrical ache remains compelling, "I'll throw your ashes away / Right now." The ambient instrumental "Montrose" perhaps signals a more intriguing, experimental way forward. The buzz of flickering fireflies, trailing orbs, white noise and underworld static. A fleeting but refreshingly unexpected diversion. We close the big door on The Innocents with the dreamy, beatific blue skies of "Bound to Earth". A contented smile spreads across its face, yet the words are characteristically troubled: "Chained in madness / In love and in pain." A bell rings, time's up and 3-2-1 you're back in the room.
There's a heartfelt, gentle sadness inside The Innocents that just makes you want to throw your arms around it. Mering's extraordinary voice alone is a spectacle of such supernatural sorcery it could lure you across the darkest, muddiest field. Even if you sometimes wish the Blood would perhaps wander a little wilder, a little weirder, The Innocents bleeds plenty of transcendental tunery, smart secrets and Weyes' words to unearth a rich reward for the curious. Kiss 2014 goodbye and let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.