The Weather Station
Photo: Brendan Ko / Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR

The Weather Station Silently Grapple with the End on Their Devastating New Record

On the companion piece to last year’s Ignorance, the Weather Station creates a piano-based record just as existentially anxious but anchored by quietude.

How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars
The Weather Station
Fat Possum
4 March 2022

The first thing you need to know about How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars, the Weather Station‘s companion piece to last year’s grandiose Ignorance, is that it was recorded between the 10th and the 12th of March in 2020. That fact is important because it was the last few days of an era for many of us. Think about how fundamentally different the world is now. Can you remember the last time you didn’t feel hesitant to share a space with a stranger without some facial protection? How many nights have you tossed and turned, wondering about your health or the health of your loved ones? How, eventually, you internalized each cost – the deaths, the murders, the expenses, the psychic wounds – as tolls to be paid while life passes in still scenes outside the window?

On the strength of her recent output, one wonders how Tamara Lindemann would have handled such a collective change in society. Instead, we’re presented with what amounts to a relic of a bygone era, one still fraught with political turmoil and mass communicative breakdowns but, in a retrospective lens, relatively halcyon. She, like you perhaps, tries to resist her heart hardening over the planet resting on the brink of environmental collapse. It leads her down some genuinely risky paths, insofar as openly grappling with the concept of futility has the potential for art to collapse on itself. Here, as before, she pulls it off, and the effect is devastating.

When Lindemann stresses the associative nature of this record, she means it. The songs on Stars were formed from the same fertile period that birthed Ignorance. Both collections are linked by the challenge of tackling existential threats with timeworn tropes – the kinds most any listener with a history of heartbreak can conceptualize. Yet where Ignorance bounded and galloped with a percussive backbone, Stars floats in weightless piano, saxophone, and clarinet. The heavy presence of silence and the shivering quietude of Lindemann’s voice imbues these songs with the gravity of an elegy and the incandescent flicker of low candlelight. It makes Stars no less contemplative than its older sibling but much more capable of clawing out lone tears.

You’ll have to carve out some solo time to take it all in, though. Unless you have good noise-canceling headphones, you’ll find the breathtaking stillness of these songs disturbed by the ambience of the world rushing around you. But in a proper setting, you’ll discover the nuances of Lindemann’s voice blossoming: the way the bottom drops out of her voice on “Endless Time”, the lightness in her delivery on “Sway”, or the husky reverence in her recitations of “Marsh” titular locale. Surface comparisons to Joni Mitchell have been made of Lindemann since her fingerpicked first record over ten years ago. Yet, it’s hard not to hear her in solitude behind the piano and not recall the gutting progression of Blue.

Honesty: that’s the correct word here. The effect is amplified in the microphone’s close proximity, but Lindemann’s words tackle much of the heavy lifting. They deftly dance around serious topics without diluting them in overly poeticizing. “Endless Time” could easily be about a failed relationship, but it could just as easily be about mass extinction, and Lindemann balances her metaphors to lend credence to each interpretation: “Lemons and persimmons in December rain / All of our lives it had been that way.” The magpie in “Ignorance” earns its name from the hubris of its detainer – the hoarding behavior of the bird itself also makes it a curiously meta image – but she’s quick to point out that hubris in herself, then and later in the koan-like “Song”. 

Yet the real pleasure of the record is hearing how Lindemann and her accompaniment shape each song around those musings. Several members of Toronto’s rich improvisation scene lend a gentle, tasteful majesty to Stars‘ glacial tunes. When the first tear falls on “Marsh”, the track opens up for Karen Ng’s saxophone and Christine Bougie’s lap steel to wring out as much emotion as possible. Their presence on “Song” swells to an unplaceable beauty; on “Sway”, they form a blissful reverie. Their presence occasionally feels so light that it’s hard to notice their contributions without close listening, unwilling as they are to disturb each fragile foundation.

On rare occasion, in “Marsh’s” allusion to the election year and “Sleight of Hand’s” subsequent skewering of its propaganda, the age of these recordings surfaces to disturb the record’s songbook atmosphere. That’s about as directly confrontational as Lindemann gets. Everything else on Stars is spread out or directed inward toward the same inherent faults of humanity that anchored the songs on Ignorance, faults that lead to unknowable and unreconcilable destinations. The majority of these songs end suddenly, violently, as if positing questions without easy answers or without answers at all. How could there be? To confront the pointlessness of art in a world without people to give it meaning is a Herculean task that even the most celebrated artists would struggle to undertake. That Lindemann even tries is virtuous; that she finds a measure of success yet again is a privilege to behold.

RATING 8 / 10