The Weather Station: Ignorance review – a heartbroken masterpiece

(Fat Possum)
Tamara Lindeman’s shimmering breakup songs double as a rallying cry for our ravaged planet on this multilayered, slowly unfolding record

Art often seeks to wring beauty out of pain – always at the risk of mawkishness or cliche. The Weather Station’s fifth album is an undertaking that succeeds – many times over.

It’s the sort of record whose victories deserve to be accompanied with trumpet fanfares: how Toronto-based Tamara Lindeman quietly revolutionises an old, familiar trope – the pop album about heartbreak, co-starring piano and strings – and makes it a rallying cry for our times; how she takes overdone old 80s beats and dusts them with the barest shimmers of jazz.

Such is the will-o’-the-wisp quality of Ignorance that it feels vulnerable to the glare of forensics. You don’t want to break open the music box in order to describe its workings. And yet: here is a left-field pop record full of muted fury and despair; one that never howls outright, but trickles out emotion in careful dropperfuls – in a partial vignette here, or a quiet epiphany there.

On Subdivisions, Lindeman hits the road. “Got in the car, and the cold metallic scent of snow caught in my throat as I reached out to turn on the radio,” she sings, just one of a handful of times this former folk musician and child actor resembles Bruce Springsteen. A song such as Atlantic finds her breathless: “‘My god,’ I thought, ‘what a sunset’,” she exhales. Tried to Tell You watches someone else’s pain closely. “I will not help you not to feel, to tell yourself it was not real,” she croons.

Thanks to a proclivity for acoustic instruments, previous Weather Station albums have found Lindeman making folk-derived songs. Here, she embraces synths, strings and percussion, making borderline soft rock sprinkled with the kind of intuitive, expressive instrumentation – courtesy of eight musicians – that Bill Callahan has brought to his most recent records. Talk Talk is an inevitable reference point, as well as fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell; producer Marcus Paquin (Arcade Fire) deserves a shout out. But Lindeman can sometimes feels like Christine and the Queens’ bookish older sister too.

This is an album whose bone-deep grief sits inside music that’s very easy to tap a toe to. A percolating pop tune, Separated, lists all the distances growing between two lovers – because of “all the work we had to do”, and “the things you thought you knew”.

Watch the video for Atlantic by the Weather Station.

Lindeman’s mild tones dissolve into a soprano whisper to confide “my stupid desire to heal every rift, every cut”. Even more galling, her other half sees no wound at all. The dissonant strings speak the pain the lyrics stop short of voicing.

But even though there are divorce court proceedings on the stark piano ballad Trust, Ignorance is no ordinary breakup album. Whatever the people in her songs might be feeling about others, this is an artist who superimposes a second breakup on top of the first: anguish at the wanton evisceration of the natural world.

Weather stations are there to log the hard evidence in the mercury; to record the very real, very slow crawl of the coming apocalypse. And so Separated is not just about two people increasingly sleeping back-to-back; it’s about everyone carrying on as normal when we need radical, systemic change, immediately. It’s about the pain of gaps: between those who taste the emergency, and those – often beloved, sometimes just jerks on the internet – who do not.

The album’s opening track, Robber, sounds at first as if it’s describing the aftermath of a burglary. “The robber don’t hate you,” Lindeman advises. These are sound words for anyone traumatised by a break-in. Gradually, though, the song reveals itself to be a dissection of an economy based on theft – and our complacency or connivance in it. “He had permission,” Lindeman recounts coolly, as strings scythe around her, “permission by words, permission of thanks, permission of laws, permission of banks, white tablecloth dinners, convention centres – it was all done real carefully,” she seethes.

Her first weapon against all of this is exposing the lie we live every day – that everything might be all right. Her other superpower is feeling. Lindeman is eloquently undone by the flight of a bird on Parking Lot, by the blood-red of the sunset. Just as she urges someone not to deny their pain on Tried to Tell You, she spends Heart laying her own out. “I don’t have the heart to conceal my love when I know it is the best of me,” she declares: to a lover, to the world we are losing.

Watch the video for Tried to Tell You by the Weather Station


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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