WRITTEN BY: John Peterson
Opening with the refined and buoyant “The Robber,” The Weather Station’s fourth studio album is sure to take audience’s ears by surprise. Led by Canadian actress/musician Tamara Lindeman, The Weather Station makes resonant folk music that can’t be helped in drawing comparison to Joni Mitchell. With her dynamic range, rambling melodies, and poetic lyricism, Lindeman checks the appropriate boxes to place her right next to the greats of folk songwriting. Diving beyond arbitrary requirements however, it’s clear that something is missing in her work. Though presented as artistically profound, Lindeman’s music feels soulless, like an empty suit and tie signing “kind regards” at the end of a termination letter.
Perhaps this is a harsh analogy, but with the praise her newest album has received, it might just be time for a shift in perspective. Lindeman’s Ignorance is to Mitchell’s Court and Spark as lukewarm tap water is to cool and refreshing spring water. Where Mitchell’s music embodies the free and experimental nature of the 70s, Lindeman’s own songwriting feels strangely corporate and staged. Just take a look at the music video for Ignorance’s opening track “The Robber.” A beautiful forest sets the scene for an emotive dance as a diverse cast observes. It’s hard not to cringe as Lindeman feigns dejection while being interviewed, and she seems blissfully unaware of how humorous (corny) the whole set up is, from her reflective outfit to the awkward bystanders. As the music builds in intensity, the video refuses to acknowledge it, a theme that persists throughout the album; moments of genuine emotion and interest are dulled by a need to portray restraint and refinement. This refusal to let go and embrace the extremes of music gives the polished and meticulous Ignorance an unmistakable synthetic quality.
Lyrically, the album takes a deep look at some colossal issues (the climate crisis, imperialism, and virtual discourse to name a few) and how Lindeman fits into them. Her prose is beautiful on its own, with easily read lines, beautiful metaphors, and purposeful repetition. On one of her best tracks, “Wear,” Lindeman compares the world she lives in to restrictive and unbecoming clothing; “I tried to wear the world like some kind of jacket. It does not keep me warm, I cannot ever seem to fasten it.” Life should be freeing and full of connections, yet society continuously constrains and separates; “Bodies never want not to move, they wanted all of it. To be hidden, to be touched, to be known, to be undressed, to be clothed.” The irony of course is that the music of Ignorance seems to obey these societal rules, taking the free and wild world of folk and offering it a cashmere sweater and khakis. Because of this, many of her songs work much better as poetry. Initially flowing with meaning and beauty, their transformation into song strips their emotional and artistic impact. What starts as sincere and clever writing quickly becomes disingenuous, largely due to the uninspired band performances and cookie-cutter arrangements.
To these points, a track like “Tried to Tell You” serves as a prime example. Although it’s one of the better songs on the album, recalling a friend who repeatedly refused to follow their passion, it’s performance is without passion. The chorus features an extremely catchy vocal melody, as well as a counter melody stemming from a distorted keyboard, but neither are brought out in the mix. In other words, there’s a letdown where an impact should be. The arrangement is undoubtedly sophisticated, with every instrument having a clear place, but none ever seem comfortable with taking the spotlight. The band plays like they were handed the music 10 minutes before recording it, and although they play all of the right notes, they don’t capture the broader emotional narrative of the song. Just watch The Weather Station’s Tiny Desk Concert from 2018, where each band member (most notably the drummer) stands and sways in boredom—even when taking a solo! Playing the right notes does not equal making compelling art, and throughout Ignorance, Lindeman and company perform as if on auto pilot.
The album isn’t all bad, and deserves a listen from anyone who enjoys folk music, but its pitfalls are too glaring to not take notice. With uninspired and repetitive (albeit refined) arrangements and performances, prose that’s better suited for poetry, and a sound that’s vaguely insincere, The Weather Station falls short of its comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Laura Marling. Appearing and having the genuine possibility of being great, Ignorance instead is condemned to mediocrity. The right boxes were checked, the job was done, and yet, no meaningful art has ever been created by checking boxes, has it?