Titanic Rising (SubPop)
Simultaneously gorgeous and faintly disquieting, this album from Natalie Mering plays on the edges while giving you the impression it is holding the middle ground, the middle of the road even.
It feels lush and laidback most of the time, bringing pedal steel and violins, layers of backing vocals and ancient synthesisers, with drums which do everything needed while staying in the background, like an attentive but discreet aide-de-camp.
Most of the time its tempo suggests an afternoon where turning over is as much effort as you need muster, and during a song of wafting pleasure that may as well be floating in the pool looking at a barely moving cloud, such as Picture Me Better, not even that. Even when the energy rises, as in Everyday (which has Mering sounding like Aimee Mann, but happier and backed by The Turtles) it is only boosted as much as a stroll to the kitchen to refill your glass and cuddle the cat.
Yet there’s a sturdiness to it too, in the arrangements and orchestrations, which begin to show your initial impressions of flightiness may be only half-formed because as pretty as it sounds, it is held down to earth.
Part of that is because Mering’s voice refuses to just drift away, taking root in Movies, for example, and pulling you towards it even as the quasi-Philip Glass recirculating keyboards are butted by suddenly assertive flat drums.
Part of it is that within its songs there are fears and rumblings of someone watching herself in the world and not being convinced this is going to work out because people aren’t exactly what they say they are, and this air, this water, this atmosphere, is falling apart before us.
“And at night I just lay down and cry/The waters don’t really go by me/Give me something I can see/Something bigger and louder than the voices in me/Something to believe.”
It is in those implications – lyrical and musical – that the disquiet is suggested. The way Something To Believe, which could almost be an offcut from All Things Must Pass, feels like its reaching up but something is pushing against it. Or how Nearer To Thee, a brief interlude seemingly lifted from a Gordon Jenkins arrangement for the Chairman of the board, touches the edge of sweetness but won’t commit.
However, did I mention it is gorgeous? It really does feel like the offspring of Rufus Wainwright and Laura Nyro, or maybe Karen Carpenter and Harry Nillson, but with a cosmic perspective. And by cosmic I don’t mean off with the pixies. I mean its internal landscape is vast and yet wonky, a centre for exploration even if its external one is compressed from each side and distorting on the horizon.
Titanic Rising looks like the centre, but it’s not.