The Weather Station is the fourth—and most forthright—album by The Weather Station. The most fully realized statement to date from Toronto songwriter Tamara Lindeman, it is a work of profound urgency, artistic generosity, and joy. Self-titled and self-produced, the album unearths a vital new energy from Lindeman’s acclaimed songwriting practice, marrying it to a bold new sense of confidence.
“I wanted to make a rock and roll record,” Lindeman explains, “but one that sounded how I wanted it to sound, which of course is nothing like rock and roll.” The result is a spirited, frequently topical tour de force that declares its understated feminist politics, and its ambitious new sonic directions, from its first moments. Opener “Free,” with its jagged distorted guitar, is wryly anti-freedom—how very un-rock-and-roll!—in response to mansplaining chatter: “Was I free as I should be, or free as you were? Is it me that you’re talking to? I never could stand those simple words.” The song ends as strings conjure an unsettling “devil’s triad” chord, shifting between dissonance and order.
Lindeman’s songwriting has always been deconstructive, subtly undermining the monoliths of genre with her sly sense of complexity and irony. She has generally been characterized as a folk musician, and yet with its subtext of community and tradition, the term “folk” has never quite fit The Weather Station’s work; the songs are too specific and lacerating. So appropriately, Lindeman’s so-called “rock and roll record” suspiciously stares down those genre signifiers—big, buzzing guitars, thrusting drums—and interweaves horror-movie strings and her keening, Appalachian-tinged vocal melodies. Reaching towards a sort of accelerated talking blues, she sings with a new rapid-fire vocal style, filling a few of these short, bruising songs with enough lyrics to populate a full album. As she hits the climax of “Thirty,” a poignant, bittersweet story of a passing crush, you realize she has been singing incessantly for the last two minutes, with nods to gasoline prices, antidepressants, a father in Nairobi—how she “noticed fucking everything: the light, the reflections, different languages, your expressions.” The song is overbrimming, as though attempting to expand the borders of what can be said within a three-minute pop song. “I don’t know what to say,” she sings elsewhere, “so I say too much.”
On past records, Lindeman has been a master of economy. Here her precisely detailed prose-poem narratives remain as exquisitely wrought as ever, but they inhabit an idiosyncratic, sometimes disorderly, and often daring album that feels, and reads, like a collection of obliquely gut-punching short stories. It is not a careful record, or an abstract one. Instead of the hushed airiness of Polaris Prize-nominated predecessor Loyalty (2015), we get something more direct and piercing. The characters of The Weather Station are navigating the unknowable, the frontiers of anxiety, empathy, and communication. On “Power” Lindeman expresses desire for strength and control as decline rather than ascent: “I felt like I was descending some strange inverted tower, looking for my power.” On the prospect of marriage, the narrator is open but afraid: “I asked for your hand in it, some infinite understanding. But I don’t know nothing of what I am asking; I have no idea of what it will entail.” “Black Flies” conjures a natural world as discomfiting and forbidding as the distances between us: “Straight line of horizon, and the ocean painful wide … Every crooked word spoken still ringing in your ears like the whine of mosquitoes.” Heatstricken “Complicit” raises the specter of climate change; as “all the hot winds blow,” and her guitar knots itself into a helical riff, Lindeman reminds us, “you and I, we are complicit” in the escalating disaster.
After two records made in close collaboration with other musicians (Daniel Romano, Afie Jurvanen of Bahamas), Lindeman self produced, taking full creative control for the first time since her debut. The band comprised touring bassist Ben Whiteley, drummer Don Kerr, and disparate guests, including Ryan Driver (Jennifer Castle), Ben Boye (Ryley Walker), and Will Kidman (The Constantines). But the heaviest thumbprint on the record belongs to Lindeman; she wrote the dense, often dissonant string arrangements and played most of the wending, tumbling guitar lines. “I produced the record,” she reflects, “because I was the only one who understood it, and the only way I could explain it was just to make it.”
The cover of Loyalty memorably featured the back of Lindeman’s head. On the cover of this record, by contrast, she stares directly into the camera, insouciant in blue jeans, frozen in an artless, almost awkward pose. The Weather Station is her most direct and candid record, and the first one to include tracks one might characterize as pop songs. Yet amidst fizzing tambourine, nimble bass, and the jangling rhythm guitar of “Kept It All to Myself,” she alludes to mental disarray—how “kind faces would change on me, eyes and nose and mouth, unfamiliar assembly.” On the final song, she observes, addressing an oblivious dinner companion, “The most dangerous thing about you is your pain—I know for me it is the same.”
Throughout, the record grapples with some of the darkest material Lindeman has yet approached: it is, according to her, the first album on which she touches on her personal experiences of mental illness. And yet the gesture inherent to the record is one of unflinching embrace. Despite it all, the characters “fall down laughing, effervescent, and all over nothing, all over nothing.” “Well, I guess I got the hang of it” she sings wryly, “the impossible.” By saying more than ever before, The Weather Station seeks to reveal the unnamable, the unsayable void that lies beneath language and relationships. It’s willfully messy and ardent and hungry. And that, perhaps, is very rock and roll, after all.