The phantom zone, the parallax, the upside down -- there is a rich cultural history of exploring in-between places. Through her latest, Titanic Rising (out April 5, 2019 on Sub Pop Records), Weyes Blood (a.k.a. Natalie Mering) has, too, designed her own universe to soulfully navigate life’s mysteries. Maneuvering through a space-time continuum, she intriguingly plays the role of melodic, sometimes melancholic, anthropologist.

Tellingly, Mering classifies Titanic Rising as the Kinks meet WWII or Bob Seger meets Enya. The latter captures the album’s willful expansiveness (“You can tell there’s not a guy pulling the strings in Enya’s studio,” she notes, admiringly). The former relays her imperative to connect with listeners. “The clarity of Bob Seger is unmistakable. I’m a big fan of conversational songwriting,” she adds. “I just try to do that in a way that uses abstract imagery as well.”

“An album is like a Rubik’s Cube,” she says. “Sometimes you get all the dimensions -- the lyrics, the melody, the production -- to line up. I try to be futuristic and ancient at once, which is a difficult alchemy. It’s taken a lot of different tries to get it right.” As concept-album as it may sound, it’s also a devoted exercise in realism, albeit occasionally magical. Here, the throwback-cinema grandeur of “A Lot’s Gonna Change” gracefully coexists with the otherworldly title track, an ominous instrumental.

Titanic Rising, written and recorded during the first half of 2018, is the culmination of three albums and years of touring: stronger chops and ballsier decisions. It’s an achievement in transcendent vocals and levitating arrangements -- one she could reach only by flying under the radar for so many years. “I used to want to belong,” says the L.A. based musician. “I realized I had to forge my own path. Nobody was going to do that for me. That was liberating. I became a Joan of Arc solo musician.”

The Weyes Blood frontwoman grew up singing in gospel and madrigal choirs. “Classical and Renaissance music really influenced me,” says Mering, who first picked up a guitar at age 8. (Listen closely to Titanic Rising, and you’ll also hear the jazz of Hoagy Carmichael mingle with the artful mysticism of Alejandro Jodorowsky and the monomyth of scholar Joseph Campbell.) “Something to Believe,” a confessional that makes judicious use of the slide guitar, touches on that cosmological upbringing. “Belief is something all humans need. Shared myths are part of our psychology and survival,” she says. “Now we have a weird mishmash of capitalism and movies and science. There have been moments where I felt very existential and lost.”

Dustin Wong

Los Angeles-based composer and multi-instrumentalist Dustin Wong crafts dense, exuberant music that lands somewhere between abstracted pop and progressive electronic production. While his series of solo albums released on Thrill Jockey focused on emotionally charged loop-based guitar sessions, his newest material finds him streaking off in the direction of multi-layered compositions that complement his six-string foundation with sampling keyboard arrangements and improvised electronic flourishes. Fluid World Building 101 With Shaman Bambu, his first release with Hausu Mountain, offers a diverse program of Wong’s sessions that span everything from high energy drum-laden workouts to luminous ballads that highlight his own impassioned vocal performances. In line with the bright optimism and playful prog sensibilities of his former band Ponytail, Dustin Wong approaches solo composition with the wide palette of an imaginary large ensemble teeming with synthetic voices that defy traditional roles of percussion and lead melody. His tracks tend to center around individual guitar or synth performances that serve as the spark for improvised overdubs, generally recorded in one take, that push his initial ideas through varied harmonic frameworks and textural backdrops. Recorded towards the end of his most recent years-long stint living in Tokyo alongside his partner and collaborator Takako Minekawa, Fluid World Building 101 bears the traces of Dustin Wong’s immersion in the traditions of electro-acoustic improvisation, ambient and new age musics, and future-facing sound design. After moving to LA and beginning a new chapter in his day-to-day life, Wong’s practice concurrently transitions to new heights of compositional complexity and emotional resonance.

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