The Weather Station – How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars

Soft, stunning set of unmoored ballads

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Early last year, Tamara Lindeman released Ignorance, her fifth album as The Weather Station, and the most celebrated of her career. It was forlorn, and it was furious; a lyrically arresting, synth-rich take on man’s desecration of the natural world. Uncut named it album of the year.

At the time, Lindeman gave no hint that up her sleeve she kept a sister record – a collection of songs written in the same period as those on Ignorance, many near-contenders for that album. But these 10 songs she regarded as too soft and too internal to stand among their fierce, percussive siblings, and so she filed them away in her notebook, under the title ‘Ballads’, and wondered how, if ever, they might take shape.

Two springs ago, just before Covid placed the world on pause, Lindeman decided she would self-fund the recording of her ballads. There was no commercial end; in fact she was uncertain whether anyone would ever hear them, but she believed in the songs and it felt important to set them down.

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Over three days, Lindeman played piano and sang, while a handful of musicians, mostly female, and all picked from Toronto’s rich jazz scene, improvised around her. Their only instruction was that the music should feel ungrounded, that there should be space and sensitivity and silence.

The result is a collection of songs that feels like a classic; a record that, sonically, might have been written at any point over the past 50 years. In part this is a trick of the ear – counter to the complex rhythms of its predecessor, How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars has a notable absence of percussion, which allows the songs to float free.

Opener “Marsh” moves languid and ecstatic over woodwind and piano, past arguments, starling flights, elections, tangles of grasses, and on through to the soft, breath-led angles of “Endless Time” – one of the album’s most striking numbers; Lindeman’s voice finding sudden new light and beauty as she sings of the casual Western disconnect in being able to “walk out on the street and buy roses from Spain/Strawberries and lilies in November rain”. Five songs in, the unabashed romanticism of “To Talk About”, a duet with Ryan Driver, is unexpected but welcome. A song of great simplicity and devotion, in Lindeman’s hands, it is hard to divine whether she is talking about the natural world or a personal relationship.

Thematically, she addresses similar subjects to Ignorance, albeit with a gentler hand. Somehow it hits a more tender spot – serving, perhaps, as a reminder of all the beauty we have to lose. It is a more yearning album, imbued with more longing than jagged grief.

Recording live from the floor, in a single take, unexpectedly enhances Lindeman’s songwriting style – its focus on the single moment, on an expanding image. It brings an intensity to these songs, and coupled with the intimacy of both music and lyrics, there is the sense here of Lindeman moving closer to herself. For her listeners, this is a thrilling prospect; the sound of an artist finding her core.

So hot on the heels of the success of Ignorance, it seems faintly ludicrous to say that Lindeman has made the finest record of her career, but there is something so deep and so resonant about How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars that it is hard to believe that it’s anything other than the record she was born to make. It is a record that makes you hold your breath. A record you want to draw close. It is quite simply stunning.

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The keen-eyed will notice here the track named “Ignorance”, from which the previous album took its name. “I thought about the man who named it a magpie/Confronted by/The great expanse of his ignorance/He wanted to name it, to detain it”, the lyric runs. Naming things, she posits, can feel an act of near-violence.

This time, Lindeman havered over the title of her record – perhaps fearing a similar ignorance, or sense of detainment. In the end, she chose the opening lyric from “Stars” – her favourite line on the album: half-exhalation, half exclamation, there is surely no better title for a record so dreamy and unbound, so imbued with wonder.

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