Weyes Bluhd is good enough to inspire elaborate suicidal fantasies. That may seem like ridiculous blog hyperbole, but for a brief moment in the summer of 2006, it was truer than true. It was my first summer as a college student. I was living in a tiny but expensive walk-up in the LES, spiritually vacant and utterly depressed, making frequent trips to visit my girlfriend in Philadelphia where a small, committed group of artists were turning me on to the rich possibilities of DIY. There were a lot of great bands playing an endless variety of venues, but for my money, the cream of the crop was a young girl from Doylestown, PA (~45 minutes North of Philly) by the name of Natalie Mering.
On the Philly circuit, she was known as Wiseblood. Playing intimate, mostly house-set shows with the constantly evolving crew of Dark Juices (Jim Strong of Wrinkle, Floating Market; Jordan Burgis of The Furniture, Quantum Spine Recordings; many others), Mering thoroughly stoked the Philadelphia community. At that time, her music was a slab of melancholy folk with goosebump-inducing, butter-voiced melodies adorned by the Dark Juices’ mysterious amalgam of tape-collage, sonorous metallic objects and other unusual textures. In short, it killed, and it was the most beautiful music I’d ever heard in my 19 years on Earth (stick that in your hyperbole pipe). So much so, in fact, that after a performance at the now-defunct Haunted Cream Egg, I approached Mering with these words: “One day, I want you to be singing to me with a knife between your feet, cutting my throat as I die by your song.” Melodramatic, I know. I meant every word.
Fast forward to 2009. A lot has happened since for Mering since then. After a stint in Portland that included music classes at Lewis and Clark college and falling in with the excellent Americana-cum-psychedelic free-improv band Jackie O-Motherfucker (whose 2000 release Fig. 5 deserves a serious listen), she returned to the Philadelphia area to continue performing and recording. 2007 saw the self-release of her debut full-length, the intriguing Strange Chalices of Seeing. Though the record contains Mering’s trademark pipes, they’re often matched, if not obscured, by infinite layers of mystery noise. Sometimes they’re not present at all, as in the case of “Remote Beach at Avernus à Stretched Out Staircase,” which begins as a Paleolithic drum circle under Angus Maclise-like oscillation freakouts and then transitions, with the elegantly abrupt whir of a tape-splice, into unsettlingly cavernous drone territory.
It’s an exercise in willfully obscure textures, sound for the sake of mystery and pleasure, a scarily focused mystical text that makes you grit your teeth at the sight of “Lo-Fi.” Sure, this isn’t high-production studio wizardry (it’d be abandoning its DIY ethic if it were), but it’s no cheap gimmick either. It’s fidelity being used self-consciously, not just as a means of representation (i.e. trying to maintain fidelity to the sound of the original source) but rather as a source of abstract expression (i.e. obscuring the original source in novel ways to produce new, more meaningful textures—“a splinter in the eye is the best magnifying glass”). It’s the moment when the painter stops using paint to represent a nude woman ‘realistically’ and throws paint on the canvas to express the violence subtending her appeal. This is the moment when Wiseblood was reincarnated as Weyes Bluhd—when gorgeous gothic hymns were misspelled as acid-drenched landscapes with a menacing, subliminal center.
Which brings us to the “Shattered Mirror”/”Liquor Castle” 7-inch. “Shattered Mirror” marks an interesting development in the Weyes Bluhd catalogue. Not as pretty as some of the earliest ballads (which, as far as I know, have never been released), not as deranged as some of the material on Strange Chalices of Seeing, the track is a true balancing act of influences. I hear an acknowledgment of pop classics in the drumbeat, that classic Jesus and Mary Chain-by-way-of-The Ronettes stomp. But in typical Weyes Bluhd fashion, the familiar element is refracted through a prism of mystery. The result is a beat without a snare, the drum’s familiar pop replaced by a ringing, bell-like sonority in some parts and a blood-curdling, trebly scrape in others. Even the pretty vocal melody is made more severe by an undercurrent of surrealistic spoken-word (“time is like a mirror, counting the days and eyes”). This sound certainly supports the closest thing to a musical manifesto I ever got from Mering: “I want to play an ancient song, but through the sonic elements of tape collage and electronics, accidental sounds that rejuvenate the melodic archetype while also thrusting it into the future.”
The element of poetry is brought to the forefront in “Liquor Castle,” which begins with a long feedback-fu*ked moan and continues through a hailstorm of harmonics guitar (a large board zither that isolates string timbre into individual harmonics, invented by NY-godhead and guitar-orchestra pioneer Glenn Branca) and occasionally decipherable words. I can’t pretend to know what’s happening in the language-scape—which is probably more than half the point—but it has its moments of weird narrative clarity (“they asked me why I was drinking from up there, that’s what they use to wash their floors up there”). Weyes Bluhd has carved out a truly unique soundworld with these tracks. The closest reference point that I can think of is UK-underground stalwarts The Shadow Ring, whose wordsmith Graham Lambkin has performed alongside Mering and made an obvious impression on her musical vocabulary.
If these tracks are any indication, Weyes Bluhd’s forthcoming LP will be a strong marriage of her across-the-spectrum influences, from straightforward songwriting to confusing noise of otherworldy timbre. As much as the Blood in Natalie Mering’s moniker suggests love, longing and connection, it also signals violence of the psychedelic cult-horror variety. You may not want to die listening to this music, but you may not have a choice.