IN THE MUSIC SPOTLIGHT: Weyes Blood

SHARE IN THE MUSIC SPOTLIGHT: Weyes Blood
SHARE IN THE MUSIC SPOTLIGHT: Weyes Blood

BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

With this season’s first weeks of subzero temperatures freshly in the minds of Chicagoans, Weyes Blood’s “Some Winters” sparks the memory of last year’s relentless cold while describing a difficult relationship. Natalie Mering’s rich alto imbues the song with both resolve and vulnerability. Above the arpeggios of a faraway piano, Mering’s voice echoes with melancholy that promises to linger throughout a stark and isolating period.

Fortunately for Mering, the weight of the song’s subject matter fades like the memory of bad weather. “It’s an older story that has become like a legend of my life,” Mering says. “It’s about breaking up, but having to stay together.”

“The Innocents” is Mering’s second Weyes Blood album. Interwoven layers of her intense, beautiful and tremulous vocals thread sad songs like the bereft “Bad Magic.” Melodies are adorned with sparse instrumentation including undulating piano, lonely acoustic guitar, or mandolin. “I like to keep things deceptively simple, but hard-hitting,” says Mering. “You can reduce everything to the perfect, essential harmony. It’s what used to be done with earlier music like Gregorian chants.”

Weyes Blood is rooted in classic folk music, but modern twists evaporate the sense of nostalgia. Imagine Nick Drake with occasional nudges courtesy of Thom Yorke’s laptop. “Bridging the two seemingly incompatible worlds is part of what I’m trying to do,” says Mering, who cites Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Donovan and Roy Harper as favorites. “I feel just as passionately about experimental electronic music as I do about folk music. A lot of people in my generation went through an obsession with the sound Radiohead got on ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac.’ ”

Ghostly whistles, battlefield sounds and strange echoes create an otherworldly vista for “Land of Broken Dreams.” The song is a steely-eyed examination of an empty culture that serves profits before people. “I think the American Dream is kind of a myth, especially for millennials,” says Mering. “The economy is one thing. Student debt is another. The quality of food. So many friends of mine have had to deal with some kind of autoimmune issue, way younger than our parents’ generation had to.”

Weyes Blood returns to the Empty Bottle on Jan. 16. It’s the New Yorker’s first visit with a band. Additional players allow Mering to more closely represent the impressionistic arrangements from “The Innocents,” although not all of them require embellishment. “There will still be some solo songs, too,” she says.

Weyes Blood, with Coins, 9 p.m. Jan. 16, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, (773) 276-3600. $10 (21+over); emptybottle.com.

Jeff Elbel is a local free-lance writer. Email: elbel.jeff@gmail.com

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