Monday, May 10, 2021

Music Review - "Ignorance" by The Weather Station

The most ebullient song of Tamara Lindeman's work to date as The Weather Station arrives on the second-to-last track of her latest album Ignorance. "I don't have the heart to conceal my love / When I know it is the best of me" are her first words on the track (fittingly titled "Heart"), heard over a bed of warm piano and just a faint trace of percussion there in the background. Then the beat kicks in properly—an insistent, disco-infused thing that propels the song forward as Lindeman gives voice to one gorgeously open-hearted sentiment after another.  It's probably the closest thing to a flat-out pop banger she's ever written, yet the gentle shaping of its melodic contours—and what a melody this song has, truly—are something else entirely and perfectly mirror the lyrics' balance of softheartedness and strongly held conviction. ("I guess that I am soft, but I am also angry" is a beautifully concise encapsulation of existing in a world so casually indifferent to various injustices.) The sheer effervescence of the whole thing is breathtaking—one of those real all-timer moments in music that only come along every so often. 

I love how its sense of resolve functions within the whole of Ignorance as well, coming directly after a tumultuous stretch in the middle of the album where you can sense that resolve wavering a bit. Track six, "Separated," is probably the most pop music-adjacent song here aside from "Heart," but it's a far more clipped (almost pointillistic) take on that style. She's talked about writing it about social media discourse, but—and perhaps this is why it's so good, given the way attempting to write about the internet tends to reduce even the most skilled modern songwriters to banality—its lyrics aren't nearly as literal as all that. Sure, you can hear "You try again your arguments out on me" as an expression of frustration at trying to get through to someone about the seriousness of climate change (that's the obvious text), but then a few lines later she leaps into something far more overtly poetic: "I lay my hands over all your fear / This gushing, running river here / That spills out over these plains / Soaking in all this rain." It's a moment of impressionistic tenderness, buttressed by a series of cascading hooks. But then the opening melody with its sense of disconnect returns before the song ends with sudden sharpness. 

Following that abrupt cutoff (unique among the album's 10 songs), the next two tracks dive ever deeper into turmoil. They're each fundamentally portraits of isolation, of being unmoored in the sense that perhaps no one else feels things the way you do. "Wear" is built around a brilliantly multifaceted metaphor, its protagonist seeking to "wear the world" in the sense of building a sense of communion with nature while also struggling with seeing the attitude of indifference worn by some of her neighbors (or perhaps a friend or lover): "Why can't I be the body graceful in the cloth of it? / Why can't you want me for the way I cannot handle it?" Why indeed? Climate scientists and activists have spoken about this idea—how understanding the science and what it truly means can lead to a profound sense of isolation from people who still just want to go about their ordinary days. We should all be losing it at least a little bit over this crisis, is what I think she's saying here. "Trust," meanwhile, uses the classic framework of a break-up song to explore betrayal on a wider scale while lamenting our thus far unrelieved march toward planetary doom. It's the starkest-sounding track on the album, built around Lindeman's elegiac vocals, haunting minor-key piano, and mournful strings.

And then we're back to "Heart," a song that is not a rebuttal of any of the darkness leading up to it but rather a gorgeous validation of all those feelings. I haven't even really talked about how Lindeman sings this song, and my god it's incredible. I don't think this is her most breathtaking vocal on the record in terms of what her voice actually does, but there's something about the register in which she delivers every single lyric that captures an instance of meaningful epiphany. I think back to "Thirty" and "Kept It All to Myself," two of the best songs on 2017's superb The Weather Station—these are restless songs whose respective flurries of words sound full of anxiety and self-doubt. "My love is the heaviest thing," she notes on the latter of those two tracks, and if Ignorance doesn't refute that statement (quite the opposite), "Heart" is nevertheless where she stops and says: You know what? That love is mine. It's what I have. The closing words are presented as a challenge to her fellow humans: "I can show myself out, walk out in the city / You can bury me in doubt, if you feel it necessary." It's a song about giving a shit that's also brilliantly about not giving a shit, and I just adore everything about it.

For me these four songs form their own mini-arc within the album, but it's a work of brilliant cohesiveness in general. Every song deals in some way, shape, or form with the climate crisis, and more specifically with Lindeman's state of mind as she grapples with the enormity of it. The album rarely boils over into total fury, however justified as that fury would no doubt be; its closest thing to an outright protest song is opener and lead single "Robber," with its bridge calling out the "permission by laws, permission of banks" that underlies capitalist social relations. But even this song is more about the singer as subject than anything else, relating her shifting psychological relationship to the process of having her future potentially stolen. It's all the more bracing for that, especially when considered alongside lyrical moments like the portrayal of a bird on "Parking Lot," one of several songs on Ignorance in which Lindeman's penchant for specific, tangible evocations of the natural world are used not to depoliticize the crisis—"Tried to Tell You's" description of a tree as a "symbol of what we have blown apart" makes her position perfectly plain—but to underscore the feeling of living in a world on the brink.

The result of this lyrical sensibility—pointed yet reflective, small-scale yet always with an eye toward how those slivers of imagery fit into the large-scale picture—is nothing less than one of the most profound modern song cycles I can imagine about the state of the world as it stands in the first quarter of the 21st century. But the songs are also multifaceted and impressionistic enough that, should we manage to pull ourselves out of this death spiral, they could function divorced from that context. They're love songs, break-up songs, minor-key emotional portraits, and more. And sonically they're in dialogue with so many different styles of music—the aforementioned flirtations with pop and disco but also jazz, '70s-era Fleetwood Mac, and folk—in a way that feels immediately timeless. Ultimately, that's where I think much of Ignorance's hope (and I think any album with a song like "Heart" on it is on some level a hopeful album, even as much of it reads as a funeral song) lies—in the belief that maybe, just maybe, someone 100 or 150 years from now will be around to hear this burst of musical creativity and carefully considered lyrics in a different, less apocalyptic light. It's not a particularly important reason (compared to many others) to want the climate apocalypse averted, but you can't hear an album this good and not want that. Can you?

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