April AOTM – ‘Ignorance’ by The Weather Station

Ignorance | The Weather Station

It’s my turn for Album of the Month and as usual, I’ve not found my selection an easy choice. I’ve selected Ignorance by The Weather Station, the 5th full length album from 36 year old, Canadian Tamara Linderman. I wasn’t aware of her music before the single ‘Robber’ was released late in 2020. Her early albums fit neatly into the ‘singer / songwriter’ folk genre but with each successive release her sound develops in complexity and the band becomes bigger along with the sound. A journey that delivers ‘Ignorance’, which is hard to define by genre but it seems that many still refer to her as a folk artist. This feels like an old label that doesn’t fit this album. But on the other hand, does it really matter?

My hesitation in choosing this album was 100% down to the hype. Last month we discussed Arlo Park’s ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ a new, young artist from the UK managing the burden of expectation of being called ‘the voice of a generation’. The hype around ‘Ignorance’ is of a different kind; to come so early in 2021 but to be touted as a contender for ‘album of the year’. It’s a simple, undeniable fact that this changes your listening experience … at least it does for me. I vividly remember my first experience of this album. I had heard Robber, loved it and then saw an early review massively praising the album. I got on it straight away, and loved it. It was a 9/10 for me. I told the crew this was to be my Album of the Month. Can you tell there is a ‘but’ coming? But then, despite its luxuriant scope, scale and shockingly beautiful soundscape, I failed to connect to it emotionally. Which is odd as it ticks SO many of my boxes. The lyrical context and content being one of them. But it still failed to truly dent me emotionally. I found it a little cold and I stopped listening to it as a result.

So why have I chosen it? I’ve chosen it as I’ve gone on such a roller coaster with this album that I thought it would be an interesting choice for discussion with my friends who I know will have an opinion. I have connected more with this album over time. I think it demands close attention, it does sound best in headphones (I know, I know everything does) but I’d argue this is a different album in headphones. It’s so ‘pleasant’ on a surface level that it can be a perfect background music for life but I think due to the fragility or Tamara’s vocals and lyrics, a different level of appreciation can be achieved through a focused, concentrated listen.

So, on to the music? This a 40 minute, 10 track album. Hallelujah! Thank you Tamara. It is SO dense (I mean this in the ‘good way’) that overstepping the 10 track mark might have been problematic. There are a couple of 5 minute tracks but generally we’re in the 3-4 minute track mark … so this must be pop music right? I think the answer to that is ‘yes’ you could go ‘art pop’ if you wanted people to snigger behind your back but I am going with ‘pop music’ and I’m ok with that. ‘Side A’ (by which i mean tracks 1-6) is upbeat and rhythmically driven giving way to a more melancholic ‘Side B’. Regardless of the tone of the tracks there are tons of melodic, rhythmic and lyrical hooks. Let’s get into a few of them.

‘Robber’ … wow. What a way to open an album. There’s an albums worth of motifs, trills, frills, strings, woodwind and spiky yet intriguing ideas in one track (and of course we all know I love a big organ). It’s a surprisingly anxious, urgent and threatening track to start an album with and I think you could argue that it could have closed the album? It constantly threatens to veer off into jazz noise but never quite carries through on the threat.

The album then opens up into 9 more tracks that, while they rarely play with the oddness and complexity of ‘Robber’, there’s a hell of a lot going on. How many influences can you hear in this album? Are they deliberate? Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Springsteen (Atlantic / Tried to Tell You) and a host of other 80’s radio rock smeared with synths (I can genuinely hear shades of Dire Straits!) but then also the strings and hints of 80’s ‘sophisti-pop’ chucked in for good measure. David will love the disco-tinged-drive of ‘Parking Lot’ and I think we’ll all appreciate the magical backing vocals on ‘Loss’.

There is loads to love about this album; pop hooks with scope, scale, ambition and complexity. An artist playing with a wide sound palette and clearing enjoying the process and the results. I am still yet to fully connect with it emotionally but I can feel that this building slowly over time.

Some questions that I think might be interesting to discuss;

What is hell is this (and as always, does that even matter)?

How do hyperbolic critical reviews impact your experience of an album?

What influences do you hear in it?

What do you think might be preventing my emotional connection (reading a wide range of reviews – I am not the only one)

8 thoughts on “April AOTM – ‘Ignorance’ by The Weather Station

  1. Read your post nodding my head gently as I’m so closely aligned to you on it brother Joey. I went in big at first and was marveling at the musical depth but it’s never got beyond that at the time so I stepped back for a while. But I’m hoping to go back in big time between now and the recording that maybe that’ll change. I felt very little connection to a musically almost perfect album but it’s perhaps starting to change…. I hope it does. But you know the feels…. And that’s what I’m searching for. I’ll get back into it more fully soon.

  2. And as for your questions:

    What is hell is this (and as always, does that even matter)? I’m not sure. It’s pop, art pop possibly but not right through, with some jazz sprinklings. Of course it doesn’t really matter but we need to stick labels on it. It’s definitely ‘grown up’ pop, but perhaps a little too intentionally.

    How do hyperbolic critical reviews impact your experience of an album? They do. I don’t read them at all until I’ve had a good few listens. They can’t not impact it. Reviews are needed but I can’t ever read one before I listen to an album, it’s impossible not to be prejudiced.

    What influences do you hear in it? My god, all sorts. Nicks and also McVie (in terms of the tone), Bush yes, and also things like Haim, various folk/pop chanteuses we know and love like U.S. Girls, and others whose names fail me. Some Lana Del Rey too.

    What do you think might be preventing my emotional connection (reading a wide range of reviews – I am not the only one) It feels way too clean and polished and so honed that there’s less realness at the moment for me. The slow sounds connect more as they’re looser. Many are musically brilliant but there’s no room for manoeuvre, so finely constructed as they are.

    1. I’ve been doing some reading on the Weather Station, as before this I have never heard of them or their lead singer Tamara Lindeman. It seems that every reviewer knows of her previously releases well. Am I the only one out in the cold with this? Or perhaps with our limited reach we should start a campaign to oust the journalist that had never heard of her and are trying to style it out as surely they should have known of such a talent ahead of reviewing her latest album?

      From the collection of (questionable) journalist comments on her older work I have read that they were over complicated lyrically and hard to follow; this album has some elements of this but I like that. The Robber is a great case and point to this, as the lyrics are referring to failures of capitalism. I didn’t get this until I read about it.

      The album is really catchy. I would say it’s pop-folk (is that a thing?). It’s sounds very Canadian. There are many elements of artists that I grew up listing to in Canada. The Cowboy Junkies, Sarah McLachlan, Joni Mitchel, Gordon Lightfoot and more recently The National and Arcade fire. Lindeman’s voice is welcoming and sonically the album is very well put together.

      The first track that really stood out for me was ‘Wear’. I’ve read that Lindeman is very active in campaigning around the climate crisis. I’m guessing this song is reflection of this work. The track finds itself sandwiched between ‘Separated’ and ‘Trust’ which also are album stand outs for me.

      The first time I listened to the album I was put back how quickly it past. It hits that sweet spot I’d argue for all of us. Not too long and leaves you wanting more.

      I mirror many of Joey’s thoughts on this. It’s catchy, complicated and approachable. I’ve been listening to it non stop over the last month, though haven’t had enough time to properly soak in the lyrics of many of the songs. I think there is lots left to digest lyrically with this album. It would be good to listen to in the car by yourself; maybe one day when I have long journey’s for work I’ll find the time to do so.

      1. I am DEFINITELY not aware of her work before this. This already feels like a Pitchfork-esque thing again. We can’t know everything and we’re not music journalists, but it also feels like exactly the sort of thing they’ll froth over.

  3. Nolan, it wasn’t just you. I wasn’t aware of her at all. And when I heard this album, I was like HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT HER?

    Interesting reading about some of the brothers struggling to connect with this album. And indeed, Guy’s point about this feeling to clean and honed. I don’t think I could disagree more. And I don’t think I have connected with an album this hard for probably at least the past 12 months. I have played this TO DEATH and I am still playing it.

    To me, this is a major piece of work. Its both lyrically and musically articulate in a way that feels quite rare, and it’s put together with such flare and with such care, that I find quite a few moments in it genuinely breathtaking. Trust is the best break-up song I have heard in YEARS. “Dim the lights and draw the curtains, this is the end of trust.” Robber – what a fucking opening track. “I never believed in the Robber’. Parking Lot is a genuine stand-out pop song that just sounds like a hit. Subdivisions – what a way to close an album – both uplifting and sad at the same time.

    The yearning in her voice, and in her lyrics I find so incredibly moving. I’m going to mention Kate Bush here, and I do so very tentatively. To be clear: I am a HIUUUUUUUUUGGGEEEE Kate Bush fan. Teenage member of her fan club (true!). Saw her live a few years ago when she finally performed live and it might be the best gig I’ve ever seen. I mention her because she also writes with such care and such talent, and she knows EXACTLY what she’s doing. That’s what I feel Tamara Lindeman is doing here. There is artistry in this. You might feel it sounds too careful, I don’t at all – I feel like the music is conveying precisely all the emotions she wants it to.

    She is clearly one hell of a talent. I REALLY recommend the previous album too, which I’ve also been dosing to death.

    I could go on about this all day. But this album is now a part of my life and I am certain it will be forever. And for that, I am extremely grateful.

  4. I’ve given this another week brothers, and I’m still struggling. And it still doesn’t really make sense to me why. I’ve listened to the album at least a dozen times now, probably high teens. I’ve had 4 more cracks this week but it just doesn’t seem to really penetrate my subconscious, in the way that all albums I love do.

    Some caveats of course: It’s beautiful. It really is. I talked about it being ‘clean’ before and I meant that as a compliment. It’s clearly been so well crafted, honed, played, arranged. It really is the sign of music that is written and performed by someone that knows their vision and what they want to make. My first impressions when I listened were ‘wow, this is just densely arranged, multi-layered beauty’ and I just sat back and waited for it to land and….. it never really did.

    It’s a bit of a mystery. Because I read David’s response and really – while i’m hardly in the Kate Bush fan club – I can see a lot of parallels, and didn’t really want to make that connection. But there’s so much that *sounds* like things I love (not in imitation, but in feeling and moments). There’s obviously a huge Fleetwood Mac vibe in a lot of the music too, and a lot of the folk/alt-pop artists we’ve talked about a reviewed on the blog in the past here, from Julia Jacklin and Eleanor Friederberger to Aldous Harding and Julie Byrne, and it’s a group that have given me a lot of joy and that I often find solace in, years later. I’ve also mentioned Haim, for that west-coast, Americana female sound that lends so much to Nicks and others before them. It really should be something I am enveloped in.

    Yet the bits of the album that I connect with most are the slower, piano-led songs: Trust, and Subdivisions. They feel looser and duskier to me. And also, I find, the easiest to hear and connect lyrically too. I have realised that as I get older and perhaps I spend less time with music in headphones, (and perhaps my hearing is slightly dulled by 25 years of speakers and bass bins) I do struggle more with lyrics. I have become much more of a ‘melodies guy’ than a ‘lyrics guy’, not because I don’t really like lyrics – they matter to me so much, and so many songs and artists only connect to me when I finally get into what’s being said and what it means – but I find that my favourite albums is where the lyrics are clear and land with a punch. That doesn’t mean volume or delivery, but it’s about where they sit in the melodies.

    With much of Ignorance, I find that, with so many layers to many of the songs, I often find the vocals aren’t as high in the mix for me to really find them and as a result I struggle to really hear what’s they say, and I know this lessens the album’s power and impact. I know that – having read them, and about them – that this will mean the overall experience is diminished. and that’s totally understandable. Perhaps that’s what’s behind it. But also, with such lyrically opaque songs as The Robber, I wouldn’t have a hope in hell about deciphering its meaning when I struggle to get the lyrics. I find this frustrating because I want to have it connect with me. Perhaps it’s too much. I’m listening to this as write, in my studio headphones, and Atlantic is on and I am really having to strain to hear those words. There’s something about the delivery, a sort of silken, breathy tone that means while the dance with the melodies is so pleasing, it often feels like it can’t get out of their orbits.

    I realise this is a really specific critique, and one that probably seems ridiculous, but I’ve spent a LOT of time trying to work out what’s going on and I think that’s the crux of it.

    So, my disappointment is as much of my own (underwhelming) enjoyment of this. It sounds wonderful. It’s musically brilliant. It is so well-written and produced and arranged that having something that’s ‘really good to listen to’ but that has no real emotional connection to speak of is a pretty sad situation.

    But here we are. Sorry!

  5. Funny how things can still change even after the AOTM and the pod. I’m finally cracking this. I’m reaching for it. I’m enjoying it. Getting into the lyrics has made all the difference.

    You can’t manufacture the feels, but you can give it a nudge.

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