Album Reviews: Weyes Blood's Titanic Rising & Faye Webster's Atlanta Millionaires Club

In the ever forward moving world of internet humor, I often see a lot of jokes on Twitter that are based around the idea of something from the past ‘walking,’ so that something more contemporary can ‘run.’

Recently, I saw a tweet that stated, ‘Avril Lavigne walked so that Billie Ellish could run’—I still don’t understand who or what Billie Ellish is; I think I may just be entirely too old. Never the less, I understand the basis for the joke—something from the past paved the way for something similar to come through, later on, to acceptance.

A number of months ago, I was having an exchange with an artist I had written a review of, and they had thanked me for writing things that have more depth to them than, as they had put it, ‘this artist sounds like this artist.’ And as much as I go out of my way to be as thoughtful as I can with my music writing, occasionally I find myself with a case of someone walking, and someone running, because of it.

In a sense, Mitski’s Be The Cowboy walked, so that Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising could run.

Be The Cowboy, as of this writing, is on the cusp of only being one year old, but you can both already hear its indirect influence on other idiosyncratic, bombastic, hard to classify indie pop music, as well as see the ability it had to open up wider doors of listenership for other artists making similarly minded music.

Natalie Mering has been making music under the Weyes Blood moniker for the better part of eight years now—each subsequent release (her last two were on Mexican Summer) has found her profile rising a little higher, but its her fourth full length, Titanic Rising, issued via the hallowed halls of Sub Pop this spring, that has poised her is for something much larger.

Not only did Titanic Rising chart within the Billboard Top 40 thanks to all of the critical buzz surrounding its release, but it also finds Mering exploring sounds that are exponentially more cinematic in scope—a meticulously produced record, it relies, at times very heavily, on a grand sense of theatricality from Mering, as well as tip of the hat to an antiquated sound (warm, 1970s pop music, at times a little twangy) that she interpolates, almost effortlessly, into her songwriting and arranging in such a way that it doesn’t come off as derivative or disingenuous.

It’s less of a homage, and more of a case of an artist wearing part of their influences on their sleeve, but doing so with such a grace that it allows the listener to be almost entirely captivated by the wondrous atmosphere created.

I played part of Titanic Rising for my wife, as we were coming to the tail end of a very, very long car trip, prefacing it by saying the album, at times, reminded me a little of Be The Cowboy—not musically, but more in the sense that it’s a complicated, at times difficult album, that is made slightly more accessible simply by the fact that something that is also complicated and difficult—and well loved—came shortly before it. It’s not the kind of album that could only exist in a post-Be The Cowboy world; it is the kind of album that is going to thrive in that world.

My wife didn’t disagree with me—she did note the similarities in Mering’s and Mitski Miyawaki’s voices—but she thought Titanic Rising, at least the parts of the record we got through, were more reminiscent of The Carpenters—and vocally, pointed out a lot of resemblances between Mering, and Karen Carpenter. It is worth noting that, in an interview that points out this very similarity, she is quick to dismiss it.

Spread across 10 tracks—two of which are interludes that are a little over one minute long—Titanic Rising is a pretty standard length (42 minutes) but it’s an album that isn’t as lean, or sparse, as it looks. Mering makes these songs burn slowly—there are times when it’s actually surprising how intentionally paced the songs can be—specifically the opening double shot of “A Lot’s Gonna Change,” and “Andromeda,” both of which, more or less, set the larger stage for things to come while the rest of the record unfolds.

The first thing you hear on “A Lot’s Gonna Change” is a wonky, late 70s or early 1980s inspired synthesizer—it quickly resolves (don’t worry, this kind of instrumentation returns later in the album) and gives way to that Carpenters-esque somber piano progression, as Mering’s voice and the song’s additional, crisp and warm sounding instrumentation come tumbling in.

The song, at least by the time it reaches the refrain (“A lot’s gonna change in your world/Try to leave it all behind in your life”) proves itself to be a hazy, swooning kind of ballad—punctuated by the grandeur from the string arrangements, and lyrically, as much of Titanic Rising can be, finds Mering in a pensive, reflective place.

Just barely in her 30s, there are a number of lyrics that are preoccupied with sadness (“A case of the empties” she charmingly refers to them as on “Something to Believe”), as well as the desire to return to a simpler, easier to emotionally process part of her life—“If I could go back to a time before now—before I ever fell down,” she begins on “A Lot’s Gonna Change. “Go back to a time when I was just a girl; when I had the whole world wrapped around me.”

As the album slowly unfolds, Mering also displays her desire for both love—the topic of both the whimsical, jaunty “Everyday,” and the aforementioned “Something to Believe,” which is perhaps the most Karen Carpenter inspired on the album—as well as the need to be something much larger than herself. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, based on the earlier desire to retreat to a less complicated time—but as the album’s second half begins on the very dramatic “Movies,” Mering pines, “Put me in a movie, and everyone will know me. You’ll be the star you know you are.”

An album like Titanic Rising doesn’t so much ‘play it’s hand too soon’—something paced this glacially at times simply just can’t do that; however, the album is front loaded with its most accessible material. Mering saves the baroque inspired “Wild Time” (the album’s lengthiest piece), and the synth heavy, moderately foreboding at times “Mirror Fever” for the back half.

While Titanic Rising technically concludes with a short, instrumental track that calls back to the album’s opening, the final ‘proper’ song is the swooning, heartfelt ballad “Picture Me Better,” and if you think it sounds—not so much out of place—but a little different than the way the rest of the record comes across, you are correct in noting that. According to the minor annotation the song has received on Genius, it was written while Mering was recording the album, after a friend of hers died by suicide. She refers to it in an interview as the ‘cherry on the cake’ and it being an ‘old school song,’ in the way it is structured, and with its somberly strummed acoustic guitar and bittersweet string accompaniment, it does have almost an instantly familiar, or at the very least, comforting kind of feeling coming from the melody.

Titanic Rising, by all accounts, an impressive and ambitious album—it’s a relatively huge leap forward for Mering and the Weyes Blood project—the kind of thing that comes from the artistic freedom and financial backing an imprint like Sub Pop is probably able to provide. For as lush and complex as it is, it is also a very, very difficult album at times—the pacing is intentionally slow, but there are many moments (usually in the latter half) where it is almost too sluggish.

The album really offers no real resolution in the end, and by calling back, even slightly, to the string arrangement from “A Lot’s Gonna Change,” it creates the cyclical nature of the human condition, by both longing for something more, but also wanting to stay close to what you’ve known.


There is a lot going against Atlanta Millionaires Club, the third album from Faye Webster; at least, there’s a lot going against it, for my liking.

There’s the cover art, for example—you aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, and I suppose the same goes for records as well. But the art—Webster, hand near her face, grasping golden foil wrapped chocolate coins, many of them already melted onto her mouth, a vacant stare in her eyes—almost made this a ‘hard pass’ for me.

There’s also the way it was described—at least by N.M.E., who claimed Webster was said to be the artist bridging the gap between folk music and the Atlanta hip-hop community. On paper, that sounds like it’s either going to be incredible, or like an absolute disaster—e.g. that Nick Hakim album from two years ago that was allegedly like 1990s rap music meets Nick Drake (it wasn’t.)

Much like Titanic Rising, Atlanta Millionaires Club is impressive and ambitious.

Webster, barely in her 20s, made a name for herself photographing major players in the Atlanta rap scene, as well as working with the independent rap label Awful Records, which released her self-titled effort in 2017 (she is now with Secretly Canadian, home to Mitski.)

The first thing that struck me about the aesthetic of Atlanta Millionaires Club is that Jenny Lewis walked so that a sound like this could run. That isn’t to sell Webster, or this record, short in anyway—but with both the range and dynamic of her voice, as well as her choice of instrumentation throughout the record, Webster too, whether intentional or not, wears her inspiration and influences on her sleeve.

A sparse 10 songs, one of which is a self-aware reprise of one of Atlanta Millionaires Club’s finest moments, Webster wastes no time plunging the listener into the sound she’s worked to craft—slide guitars, Rhodes pianos, slinking bass lines, and incredibly crisp production on the drums make this a very warm, very authentic sounding record—almost flawlessly replicating myriad sounds: it can be warm and sun-soaked, it can be reminiscent of tight 1970s R&B, as well as the neon lit dance floor of a country and western bar, full of sad, lonely people, awkwardly dancing with one another, searching for some kind of connection.

At its core, Atlanta Millionaires Club is a pop record, and I say that because of how nearly every song makes use of repetition in the refrain, allowing these songs—or at least pieces of them—to become infectious.  I should get out more,” is the only lyric to the refrain of the song’s open track (and one of its weakest, truthfully) “Room Temperature”; “The right side of my neck still smells like you,” is, also, the only lyric to the refrain of the aptly titled “Right Side of My Neck,” which is, in turn, one of the album’s best.

Lyrically, the trademark that Webster punctuates a bulk of the record with is a self-effacing and self-aware sense of humor. She knows that she’s writing songs for an album—and usually the broken fourth wall is a little hit or miss for me, but she is charismatic enough as an aloof chanteuse, if you will, to sell it. “This wasn’t ‘posed to be a love song,” she confesses on the album’s centerpiece, “Jonny.” “But I guess it is now.” It is on the same song she explains that her dog is her best friend, even though he, more than likely, doesn’t know what her name is.

Atlanta Millionaires Club finds Webster juxtaposing both more playful or humor material that slithers into a hard groove, with songs that still slither, but are more melancholic in tone. The album works best when she finds the right balance between the two dynamics, and she does so on the slow burning “Kingston,” which arrives at the beginning of the album’s second half, and is the album’s finest moment, as Webster pulls together all the elements to make it a success—horns, a slide guitar, sharp hi-hat taps and snare hits, and a slinking rhythm.

The case can be made that Webster bridges the gap between folk and Atlanta rap music—outside of her work as a photographer—because of the featured appearance from Awful Records founder Father on the album’s penultimate song, “Flowers,” which surprisingly does include a percussive pattern that alternates between skittering and thundering, twinkling keyboards, with Webster cooing as Father, born Centel Magnum, delivers the song’s centerpiece verse.

Again, on paper, it seems like this could be a train wreck of the highest order, but Webster, as a songwriter, is entirely too smart for a cross genre collaboration like this to fail—and sequencing it at the very end gives the album one final push of enthusiasm before it concludes.

Webster’s first album arrived in 2013; self-released, Run & Tell is a much more straight forward, twangy affair, and even compared to her Awful Records self-titled release from 2017, she’s grown noticeably more confident in her abilities as a singer and songwriter with Atlanta Millionaires Club. It’s a record that, due to its brevity overall and the pacing of the songs, doesn’t overstay its welcome, as Webster works to find where sadness, humor, and longing meet, as well as the spaces that form in between the three.

Titanic Rising is out now on LP, CD, and as a digital download, via Sub Pop.
Atlanta Millionaires Club is out now on all the same formats, via Secretly Canadian.