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Recess reviews: Weyes Blood's 'Front Row Seat to Earth'

It’s been quite a year for folky soft-rock revivalism, with artists like Whitney and Cass McCombs aping the mellower, but not completely psychedelic, sounds of the early 70s with strong results.

But none of them manage to match what singer/songwriter and producer Natalie Mering—who performs under the name Weyes Blood—has created with her fourth album, “Front Row Seat to Earth.” Mering’s delicate arrangements move the album’s chamber pop closer to the sounds of a bygone era than most other releases manage to do, and authenticity and sincerity come from her gracefully elegiac voice.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in lead single “Seven Words,” which begins with Mering almost whispering over organ and bass. The arrangement fills out with keys taken from the Beatles’ “Something,” and flinty drums continuously fill before the tenderest of slide guitar solos split the song into its two halves. An ode to the end of a relationship, Mering is cast adrift by the end of the song and channels a childlike desire (coupled with an emotional hitch in her voice) to leave her problems behind—lent maturity by her haunting voice: “It's starting to burn / and I wanna go home / only home I've known / lost in the storm.”

The theme of lost childhood continues throughout the album, with the song “Be Free” beginning as the playful screams of children open the album’s third track, “Be Free,” which progresses from just voice and guitar, until claves and hazy horns close the track under Mering’s aimless aahs. Throughout the entire track and album, vocals are somehow encapsulated from the other instrumentation, which remains just out of focus—giving it a dreamlike quality that Mering’s gentle voice only amplifies.

The most surprising moment on the album comes on third single “Generation Why,” which begins with a choir of autotuned voices spelling out, believe it or not, “Y-O-L-O,” a chorus which continues through the song, and by the end, Mering’s voice is perched atop the stack of voices. The song is hardly a Drake-ish expression of youth, however, as a softly picked guitar anchors verses about “hanging on the phone all day” and uncertainty in the face of change: “It's not the past / that scares me / now what a great future / this is gonna be,” Mering sings, turning the sarcastic YOLO into a more cynical expression that remains fearless.

The songs of “Front Row Seat to Earth” rarely surprise, as they fade in and out without announcing themselves. “Can’t Go Home” begins with feedback, which quickly, well, fades as a hazy chorus of voices backs up the ephemeral and formless melody. “Do You Need My Love” is the one true exception to the fade-in, fade-out motif of the album, with a few seconds of manipulated orchestra play before Mering begins singing over a driving piano and snare combination which threatens, throughout the song, to spiral out of control.

“Front Row Seat to Earth” is one of the most intentionally and beautifully arranged albums of the year, and the production hazily brings the songs back to the folk-rock tradition of the 60s and 70s, though Mering’s lyrics, channeled by her ghostly voice, remain incredibly in focus and contemporary—making it a more meaningful and sincere effort than most nostalgic pop.

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