It’s been a glorious spring for fans of orchestral pop: Late last month Karen O and Danger Mouse dropped their epic “Lux Prima,” and today brings the latest from Weyes Blood — a.k.a. singer-songwriter Natalie Mering — which is by far her most sophisticated and fully realized outing to date.
While her work has always been tinged with classical influences, here the orchestral element is brought to the fore, with a cinematic sweep that often recalls the last two albums from Father John Misty, although their singing and songwriting styles are dramatically different. There’s also plenty to evoke the Jimmy Webb/ Nilsson/ Burt Bacharach school of orchestral pop, but her singing is much more classically influenced than the vocalists associated with those artistes.
Indeed, it’s Mering’s crystalline voice — we’ll bet she’s never inhaled a cigarette —and stately, precise delivery that sets her apart from any influence one might hear. Similar in tone to pre-jazz Joni Mitchell, her mannered style brings forth the classical influences and lends a gravitas and a sense of drama to the songs, no matter what the lyrics are addressing (which, true to the title, seems sometimes to be the film “Titanic”). There’s frequently a quaver in her voice that often telegraphs fragility in other singers, but here it implies a stoicism.
The lush arrangements blossom with the songs, growing in volume and impact — often pulling back before coming in stronger — as the tracks build to a peak. The opening “A Lot’s Gonna Change” swells gently until by the end Mering’s voice is at full sail and the orchestra is soaring and there’s even a choir (which may actually be several multi-tracked Merings). It’s an epic in less than five minutes.
Apart from the occasional Misty evocation, the most prominent rock influence here is the Zombies’ “Odessey and Oracle” and like-minded baroque pop of the late 1960s (the Left Banke, “Village Green”-era Kinks), particularly on “Everyday.” Mering is accompanied on most songs by retro savants the Lemon Twigs, who are fluent to a fault with the sounds of the early ‘70s on their own records but are kept in check here; Alabama Shakes/Perfume Genius producer Blake Mills bring some George Harrison-esque slide guitar. But despite the influences and the ace accompaniment, there’s never any question who’s leading this dance. “Titanic Rising” is a new peak for a rapidly maturing and utterly distinctive artist.