“Titanic Rising” by Weyes Blood should not have surprised me. Weyes Blood is a well established musician within the indie scene, and “Titanic Rising” is her fourth album. Artists in 2019 seem to come out of thin air, having been lurking in some corner of Soundcloud or Bandcamp, waiting for their big break into the general consciousness of those who have r/indieheads or Pitchfork as favorites on their internet browser. But Weyes Blood has been releasing music under that name since 2011, and previously toured with bands like Jackie O-Motherfucker and Nautical Almanac. She even released an EP with Ariel Pink, one of my favorite artists. So how was it that I had never heard of her until last year? And why is “Titanic Rising” the best album I’ve heard this year?
What makes Weyes Blood’s latest album stand out from the vast majority of music released by her peers is its understanding of emotion. Mood is a terrible concept in dream pop, the genre that “Titanic Rising” flirts with the most. On one hand, certain dream pop artists—especially Beach House—have totally nailed the ability to convey emotion and are able to combine spaced-out and swirling instrumentation with lyrics that are powerful and concise. However, much of dream pop falls into the trap of all vibe, no substance, with weak songwriting betraying blissed-out instrumentation, revealing hollow and flimsy songs. From this comes the nearly derisive moniker chillwave, a style of dream pop whose defining feature is being chill. Chillwave is where genuine songwriting goes to die.
Weyes Blood’s songwriting blows all of these artists out of the water. Every song has cutting, evocative lyrics, perfectly matching her powerful voice. The song “Andromeda” is an excellent example. She sings “Stop calling / It’s time to let me be / If you think you can save me / I’d dare you try” as her voice crescendos to a full and powerful peak. When I listened to it for the first time, I had to stop walking on my way to class because I was shocked by how stunningly beautiful the song was.
Weyes Blood does not stray away from being grand, which is great. Indie music in 2019 is often far too stripped back, with artists seemingly hesitant to add extra layers of sound onto their songs. Whether it’s out of a fear of sounding too much like Fleet Foxes, or a desire to stick to strictly DIY tendencies (maybe orchestral backing isn’t punk enough?), indie pop—even dream pop, one of the most consistently lush styles of the modern indie canon—is far too concerned with minimizing its sound. There is not a single song on “Titanic Rising” that doesn’t slap you in the face with a hearty dosage of string arrangements, backing choirs and more. It’s a minimalist’s nightmare. This is music created in the vein of Spiritualized, Radiohead or Björk, uncompromisingly illustrious and packed to the brim with layer upon layer of harmony. Listening to the aptly named “Andromeda” with the right headphones feels like floating through space.
This brings me to the song “Movies.” This is absolutely not a criticism of “Titanic Rising,” but no song comes slightly close to standing out in the manner that “Movies” does. Opening with a dark synthesizer line, when Weyes Blood’s voice enters the song it feels only like it could’ve been recorded in the Titanic, thousands of feet under the sea. Her voice rises as she sings “Why did so many / Get a rise out of me? / I love the movies,” reaching a cinematic climax. No combination of adjectives can really summarize how emotionally potent the song is. The song is an exploration of how movies mirror human experience and feelings, and how human condition mimics cinema. When the drums come in at the final section, the song emerges from it’s underwater state, with the heartbeat-like drums pounding away. It’s a truly fantastic track.
“Titanic Rising” is not just my favorite album of 2019 so far, but one of my favorite albums of all time. Since its release, I haven’t stopped listening to it. This is obviously speculative, but I believe its lush instrumentation and expansive sound will shape indie music for years to come.