How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars is the companion piece to one of 2021’s best albums. Its maker is the Canadian singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman whose stage name is The Weather Station. Last year she released Ignorancean inspired set of songs that used the huge topic of climate change as a springboard for the most accomplished work of her career.
Her previous Weather Station albums were impressive, but this one pushed her sound towards new heights, more expansive and dynamic than its predecessors. The theme of environmental ruin was not turned into sloganeering protest music but instead seeped into songs about loss, grief and disavowal. Richly orchestrated without being over-elaborate, at once urgent and reflective, Ignorance had a finely judged sense of equilibrium. It was an artful response to the destabilizing effects of global warming.
The 10 tracks on How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars were written at the same time as the songs on Ignorance. Lindeman recorded them in just three days in March 2020 with a five-piece band. The album shares numerous links with Ignorancealthough it approaches us from a different angle.
Acts of looking and not looking recur on both albums. “Oh tell me, why can’t I just cover my eyes?” Lindeman asked on Ignorance‘s “Atlantic”, wanting to avert her gaze from news headlines about climate catastrophe. Newspapers turn up again on the new song “Endless Time”, in which the Toronto-based musician sings about the unsustainable abundance of buying strawberries in winter and roses from Spain. “They do not put that in the paper, you will not read it on the news,” she sings in reference to the imminent foreclosure of our age of plenty. Her response on this occasion is not to look away but to look closer, in order to see the truth of the situation: “You have to use your eyes.”
The music is sparser than Ignorance. There is no drumming. The pace is slow and sighing, with Lindeman’s piano-playing to the fore. She lingers over her singing, giving the words a melodiousness that the restrained instrumentation lacks. Her breathy voice is counterpointed by Karen Ng’s clarinet-playing, which blows gently through songs. There is also a less even balance between music and words.
A track called “Ignorance” shares its title with last year’s album. It finds a jet-lagged Lindeman being woken in Australia by the unsettling sound of a strange bird – a magpie, she is told, although it actually has no relation to the European magpie. The lyrics make a series of nuanced links between colonial acts of naming, the arrogance of human sovereignty over nature and her unspoken sense of guilt at having flown halfway around the world. Much is packed into its brief duration.
Other songs turn away from the bigger picture. “I’m tired of working all night long, trying to fit this world into a song,” she murmurs in “To Talk About”. The track develops into a romantic duet sung with keyboardist Ryan Driver, a self-conscious retreat to the conventional subject matter of love. In “Sway”, the topic of ignorance is given the miniaturist setting of a relationship, “the ways I will never know you and how you may never know me”. For all Lindeman’s insight and skill as a singer-songwriter, there are diminishing returns here.
‘How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars‘is released by Fat Possum Records