The album begins like an invocation, sustained organ pulses and can rattles welcoming us into a new realm. “Storms that Breed” does not kick in as much as lurch into gear, like a pump organ getting fully going. Here we encounter Natalie Mering’s wonderfully expressive alto for the first time. It is this voice which will guide us through the next forty minutes of sonic journeying, each track anchored by her powerful and at times unearthly voice.
The six tracks that make up The Outside Room are not interested in getting to the point quickly, and this is a good thing. Each time, The Dark Juices bubble up, beating on trash can drums in the next room at one point, suddenly arching off into an extended organ solo at another. This keeps the listener off balance, ears open, not sure as to exactly what is coming up around the bend.
The second track “Dream Song” builds off of a haunting acoustic loop. Mering’s voice floats about the room as the multi-tracked vocals meet up and break off from one another, unexpected turns being taken as her voice becomes its own polyphonic chorus. Like most dreams, this one becomes lost in itself, the voices subsiding as the listener becomes immersed in echoes.
The concluding track of the first side, “Candy Boy,” comes on like a dusty 45, the melody line beautifully filling up all spaces given while percussion ticks and tocks, organ lines spiral and noise sprites dive bomb in and out of the picture. None of the production choices diminish the loveliness of the track, and if you are looking for a place to start with Weyes Blood, this might be a good song to sample.
The second side opens with the folk strum of “Romneydale,” a song where you think you are getting the picture, cowboys riding off into the sunset, until you begin to puzzle over the lyrics. Lines like “I’ll be scattered like/bees on vines/ with their own/ group mind” make their own sense, intoned beautifully on what turns out to be the most sonically straightforward track on the album.
From here we drift into some pure soundscape work, the kind of thing you might find taking up the first side of some colorfully hand-made cassette picked up at the True Vine record shop. Divergent from the path but not indulgent, “In the Isle of Agnito” serves as a cleansing of the sonic palette before the final run.
If The Outside Room has flirted with darkness throughout its journey, “His Song” plunges us headfirst into the void. Mering sings a funeral hymn over minimal accompaniment. Phased drones and string buzzes replace guitar and organ, a bassline plodding as we go ever deeper into the lament at the heart of the song.
The Outside Room is an impressive and ambitious album which will engage those who take the time to listen. A messy and gorgeous affair of the first order, it should win over those who choose to become lost in its many layers.
Weyes Blood will be performing on Saturday, July 2nd at the Bank in West Baltimore. Other artists performing include Angels in America (album release show), Mark Lord and Lolly Gesserit. Barbeque begins at 6PM, music starts at 8PM.