Less is more. There’s nothing revolutionary about that, one of the oldest adages in the book. But at a time when the ease and availability of electronic effects and just about everything else encourages more, maybe there is something cutting edge about paring down.
Cardamom Times, the new album from Weyes Blood, A.K.A. Natalie Mering, pares way down. It’s the end result of a deliberate and slow whittling process for Mering, not just against the propulsion of popular music, but against her own past. She has earned serious cred in the noise and experimental realm by performing with Jackie-O Motherfucker and singing on Mature Themes (2012) by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, and she has been known to play loud music with an amplified six-foot tall homemade string instrument. With her first two records as Weyes Blood (a name borrowed from Flannery O’Connor story, “Wise Blood”), Mering used varying degrees of folk. This third record, though, is her most minimal, straightforward, and in many ways, most daring music yet.
Accompanied by a guitar manipulated into a bright and tinny sound, an organ synth, flute, and a light wash of electronic effects, Mering’s voice is laid bare throughout the four-song EP. With the richness of Judy Collins and the melodic acrobatics of Joni Mitchell, she sings—hauntingly and enchantingly—about coming to terms with love, the lack thereof, and settling into her own vulnerability. In “Maybe Love,” a folk song that could hail from any era, Medieval included, that vulnerability emerges in a narrative about lusting after a friend. It is heartbreaking in its directness: “I like seeing you notice me,” she sings towards the beginning, and ends with repetitions of “I’ll give you everything / Don’t expect nothing / I’ll be waiting.” With the exception of “In The Beginning,” Mering uses little of the imagery and metaphor favored in folk music, and she is powerfully expressive because of their absence.
Throughout the album, Mering also separates herself from the genre by asking questions. “You take me there / Do I take you there?” she says on “Take You There,” and “Can’t you see me for me?” on “Cardamom.” These are simple yet heavy and intimate questions—the kind that are often more potent than any answer they might elicit, and in asking them (along with others), Mering pushes against one of the themes on the album: the tension between hiding and revealing oneself. “Every day’s a lesson in giving away,” she sings on “In the Beginning,” the fourth and final track, a song that intertwines a simple guitar-picking pattern with organ and occasional flute. On Cardamom Times, she gives much of herself away.
As we approach the season that lays the world bare, Weyes Blood is the perfect accompaniment. Though her melancholic music may not provide any comfort, at least it’s a companion in the cold—and a reminder that there’s beauty and warmth to be found in its starkness.