Tamara Lindeman of The Weather Station was an actor until her late twenties, having started as a teenager with a role in a Canadian family TV movie in 1999. Her work as a singer-songwriter initially overlapped with her acting, but has since become her sole focus. “I used to be an actor, now I’m a performer,” she announces with the release of her fourth album as The Weather Station. Its songs make clear what the Toronto-based musician means. Ignorance is a consummate act of musical performance, a fully expressed and thought-through set of recordings.
The album takes up the challenge that the novelist Amitav Ghosh posed in his 2016 book The Great Derangement. Ghosh argues that the climate crisis “is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination”, which must be addressed by writers and artists. The alternative is a deliberate state of unawareness, as Ignorance sinuously illustrates.
Its songs tell stories of not knowing or trying not to know. Some are clearly linked to climate change, like the sunset that Lindeman tries to enjoy in “Atlantic”, which triggers unwanted thoughts of environmental ruin. “Does it matter if I see it?” she sings. “No really, can I not just cover my eyes?” In “Tried to Tell You”, the ignorance is embodied by a person who fails to realise they love someone. Natural imagery — “endless rain”, “the river inside”, “a tree in a city park” — links the individual to a larger ecological network of relationships.
The music is more expansive than Lindeman’s previous Weather Station outings. Her first two albums, 2011’s All of It Was Mine and 2015’s Loyalty, were sparsely arranged acoustic affairs, a classic singer-songwriter setting for a voice that drew comparisons to her compatriot Joni Mitchell. For 2017’s impressive The Weather Station, she developed a more band-based sound. Ignorance takes the process to the next level with the addition of strings and sax arrangements and multiple percussionists.
“Robber” kick-starts the album with an adventurous jazz-rock groove and allegorical verses about the theft of shared resources. Stuttering percussion points to another kind of robber, time. “Loss” has the widescreen feel of a War on Drugs song, with epiphanic chords and a motorik drum beat. The song hinges on a quote from a climate activist friend of Lindeman’s: “At some point you’d have to live as if the truth was true.”
Lyrics move skilfully between small details and a larger viewpoint, like the stray glimpse of a bird that triggers a powerful feeling of grief in “Parking Lot”. The instrumentation shares a similar sense of focus and space. There is a lot of musical action, but the songs do not come across as cluttered or overbusy. The profusion of elements shares a common purpose.
Lindeman’s vocals are close-recorded, but they do not overwhelm their surroundings. Her rising and falling voice seems to follow its own course, intriguingly pitched between a husky lower register and higher tones. Her singing seems to coexist with the musical arrangements rather than try to dominate or merge into them.
The ecological theme spreads throughout the album, neither too didactic nor too cryptic. “This is what the songs are for,” Lindeman sings at one point. “This is the dirt beneath the floor.” Our faces are not pushed into the dirt by her music, but nor are we allowed to look away.
‘Ignorance’ is released Fat Possum Records