Album Review: Weyes Blood’s Front Row Seat to Earth is an Otherworldly Delight

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As the first few seconds of Weyes Blood’s new album ring out, the ethereal piano perfectly sets up the rest of the album: while beautiful, the arpeggio puts us on edge, and as singer and writer Natalie Mering’s vocals come in, it is clear what kind of ride we’re in for.  The album is a trip into the stratosphere, and its songs, the lengthy piano ballads, will make space seem like the perfect place to fall in love.

Front Row Seat to Earth is Mering’s first full-length album since 2014’s The Innocents, another solid effort from the Brooklyn singer, and Front Row picks up right where its predecessor left off.  Piano, along with Mering’s quivering alto, take center stage for just about the entire album, pairing off nicely with some truly lovesick lyrics.

Take the album’s second song, the lurching “Used to Be”, which includes the chorus’ aching line, “Used to be the one/that knew me/saw through me”.  Mering doesn’t hold back the sadness on this album; she lets it lead the way, wearing it like a badge of honor.  On cuts like these, you really start to see shades of Sharon van Etten, another female singer-songwriter preoccupied with pain.  And, like van Etten, Mering does a fantastic job of tastefully riding waves of sadness in these songs.

Acoustic ballad “Be Free” includes some truly enchanting harmonies, lifting the song into the same territory as Radiohead’s “How to Disappear Completely” as a song that doesn’t need to be any more than it is, and it works its melancholy magic to perfection.  “Be Free” is a truly beautiful song, one of the most major-key songs on the album, and yet it never feels truly happy.  It’s a nostalgic song, to be sure.

However, it’s on “Be Free” that I started to notice how long the songs are.  This is a 45-minute album, but it only has nine songs on it, eight if you don’t count the two-minute instrumental outro.  An album like this needs to give the listener a bit more room to breathe; it’s very easy to get lost in a song, like the six-and-a-half minute “Do You Need My Love”, making it hard to pay attention to the entire thing.  The second half of the album tends to get weighed down by this problem.  By the time we get there, we’re already worn out from listening.

That’s not to say these songs are bad, by the way.  “Generation Why” starts very slowly, but its barren sound is a nice change from the overblown noise of “Do You Need My Love”.  It’s vocals, also, echo some of Imogen Heap’s work in the best way possible.  This trend continues on the almost entirely vocal “Can’t Go Home”, which is a nice track but really shows the signs of listener fatigue that gets this part of the album.  Single “Seven Words” is a nice foray back into percussion; though Weyes Blood is almost always at her best when drums aren’t in the mix, we need them here, to keep the songs moving forward a little quicker.  I love the soulful, beachy guitar solo in the middle of this track, bringing a nice swell of melody and color into the song.  “Away Above”, the last track with vocals, is one of the best cuts on the album, with warm acoustic guitar and subtle percussion giving Mering a perfect backdrop to sing in front of.

This is a great album for those who are fans of music made out of great sadness.  The album is haunting in every way, with special considerations going to Mering’s incredible vocal performance throughout the album, which perfectly showcases both her range and her greatest strengths.  The album tends to drag a bit, so don’t expect to be particularly familiar with the last few songs until a few listens in.  Any fans of Sharon van Etten and Sufjan Stevens will certainly enjoy this album, but it’s worth a listen for anybody.

Front Row Seat to Earth is available on Mexican Summer Records.

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Mexican Summer

“Seven Words” Video:

-John Morse

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