Natalie Mering got her start playing basement shows and collaborating with noise bands like Nautical Almanac and Jackie-O Motherfucker, eventually twisting her vocals into harsh dissonance on early releases for her solo project Weyes Bhlud. Her proper debut, 2011's The Outside Room (attributed to Weyes Blood and the Dark Juices) was a murky pastiche of medieval folk influence buried deep in textural ambience, with the two different sides of Mering's muse competing for space and ultimately canceling each other out. Follow-up album The Innocents strikes the perfect balance between Mering's courtly songwriting and twisted noise roots, switching out the buried feeling of The Outside Room for a clear, somber sound that finds Mering's vocals and U.K. folk-inspired songwriting at the forefront. The songs at their strongest are dazzling. Upbeat single "Hang On" blends multiple tracks of harmony vocals with a dynamic, crystal-clear rhythm section, Mering's voice echoing the same wistful longing as folk stalwarts like Anne Briggs and Buffy Sainte-Marie. The lonely mandolin strums on "Land of Broken Dreams" blur into a bedding of ghostly synth percussion and far-off backing vocals, keeping the song in clear view but adding tension with hints of the project's noisier days. Standout track "Some Winters" follows suit, backing up a spare piano figure and mournful vocals with waves of tape manipulation and decaying delays. The effect can be somewhat jarring, but ultimately adds to the eeriness of an already heartbreakingly gorgeous song, taking its sentiment out of mere sadness and highlighting a very real feeling of danger and despair. The Innocents is not just a huge step up from the overly obscured tones of earlier Weyes Blood albums, but is also a triumph in terms of songwriting and atmosphere. The autumnal moods that Mering cultivates are on par with some of her brightest forerunners, with songs like "Ashes" and "Summer" blending melody and melancholy with all the gravity of Karen Dalton or Tim Buckley and "February Skies" holding all the strange mystery of acid folk masterpieces like Vashti Bunyan's Just Another Diamond Day. It's a stellar record, one that captivates both the heart and the imagination with an almost imperceptible grip, clutching the listener's attention with its painstakingly beautiful construction and a sadness that is all-consuming but somehow warm and comforting.