If the antiquated adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” still holds any contemporary meaning, then the approach that Portland’s Merō have taken with their first album is a pristine example. The quintet have been quietly, purposefully chipping away at recording their debut for nearly three years, in various locations and with a turnstile of engineers and mixers. Don’t mistake the lengthy turnaround for lethargy, though; primary songwriter Mel Guérison is in pretty high demand.
Merō’s debut record, Hands, has been given the benefit of a kind of forced perspective, with the album’s thematic and sonic ambitions being allotted ample time to incubate and shapeshift over time, largely due to the fact that Guérison is out on the road so often with other projects she’s associated with—Moorea Masa, Other Lives and Alexandra Savior, to be specific. The result of this extra buffer for the album’s compositional trajectory has made for a simultaneously harrowing and uplifting listen, and one that the members of Merō ultimately feel represents their collective vision.
“Doing it this way enabled it to be like, ‘Here’s all the songs we’ve written; we’re just gonna start recording all of them,’” Guérison explains. “As we got into the process, there were some that didn’t fit or we didn’t relate to them as much anymore. Doing it this way was actually giving us enough time for those things to come to the surface for us.”
Of the 10 songs that made the cut, each embodies a vulnerable milieu, embracing a gloomy pop undercurrent that sets scenes steeped in traumatic lyrical snapshots. “Drown,” the album’s oldest song, comes flush with textured instrumental flourishes, anchored by whispering cello and gorgeous harmonies from guitarist and vocalist Rachel Anna Dial-Krulewitch. It’s a tune that Guérison admits she never thought she’d feel comfortable releasing. The turbulent social climate spurred by the #MeToo movement inspired her to reconsider.
“It’s very obviously about physical abuse and alcoholism. But I think in this day and age especially, it’s an important time to release it,” Guérison says. “Our band is mostly female-fronted and I think it’s cool it happened that way.”
Dial-Krulewitch penned lyrics for Hands tracks “Witch Hunt,” “Skin” and “Scared,” feeling drawn to feminine energy and connection.
“At the time I was reading a lot about birth, and skin-to-skin contact between the parent and the newborn, and I wanted to elaborate on that theme. Not just connecting to your parent, but to your chosen family and your friends,” Dial-Krulewitch describes.
“The record deals a lot with that, fear of that connection,” Guérison continues. “Like what can happen when we push through that and we’re not afraid of intimate connection with other people. There’s an undercurrent of this power in the record; no matter what happens in life, there’s this connection that can be very powerful.”
That power and catharsis can be heard even in the darkest songs on Hands. “Altercation,” the album’s raw finale, expertly bookends the earnest intensity that Guérison and Dial-Krulewitch conjured in their writing.
“I almost see the record as a bit of an antithesis to violence,” Dial-Krulewitch explains. “We’ve walked through a lot of shit together. It feels like a little family.”
UPCOMING RELEASE: Hands out February 17