When I pressed play on Ignorance on release day, I was struck by one of those rare moments of exhilaration and excitement on behalf of the artist I was listening to. Opening song, ‘The Robber’, told me all I needed to know. I’ve been a fan of The Weather Station (Tamara Lindeman) for a while now, and particularly enjoyed the folky freedom of her 2017 self-titled album, but I never would have anticipated that Tamara and her band would produce an album that was likely to make any big waves in the mainstream. They were too niche for that. The first hints that I might have been wrong came with the early reviews of Ignorance, the sudden presence of Lindeman in publications that might have steered clear of her for any of her four previous LPs. The opening thirty seconds of ‘The Robber’ was enough to tell me that I had been right to pick up on those hints and that, on Ignorance, I should expect one of the most impressive evolutions of an artist that I can remember. By the end of the song, I was almost lost for words. The skittery, almost jazzy, instrumentation whirled and swirled as Lindeman continued to deliver her words in a breathy and hushed tone, spilling out a fascinating allegory for the trappings of capitalism, adding layers to her sound with the addition of full and multi-faceted band. This is the best song of 2021 so far.
And even if that was to be the only highlight on show here, I would have been a very happy man. But it isn’t. It’s kind of hard to understand what happened for Lindeman between The Weather Station and Ignorance, but this is an album that shows an artist reaching the peak of her powers in absolutely every area. She has always been a stunning vocalist, but never before has she had such measure and control in her delivery. Her lyrics have always shone – but this is the first time she has told such relentlessly affecting stories, punching the listener in the gut again and again and again. Each album has been good with a few great songs, but Ignorance comes on leaps and bounds in terms of consistency and cohesiveness. There are no dips. And while Lindeman has always had a lot to say about the world, never before has she been so political and powerful at the same time as offering such a unique and intriguing way of looking at the mess we see before us.
I’ve said enough about ‘The Robber’, but have to once again point out the amazing way she tackles the subject of capitalism here. Most interesting of all, though, is the way in which Lindeman looks at the climate crisis across the album. We know this is a subject that is dear to her heart. But while she repeatedly hints at the damage we are doing to the planet (that album title, anyone?), the most captivating technique she uses is to encourage us to do what she’s been doing and look around at what we stand to lose. The way she opens ‘Atlantic’ with the lines ‘Oh my God, I thought, what a sunset’ before encouraging us to ‘lie back in the grass’ and ‘get all this dying off my mind…know better than to read the headlines.’ Or how, in ‘Parking Lot’ she writes a whole song about seeing a bird in a parking lot before playing a gig, and how watching that bird made her feel like she had no right to go and play a show and demand so much attention when there is so much beauty outside.
It’s a fascinating and valuable way of looking at things, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t sometimes admit to the powerlessness that she feels in the face of climate change. At the end of ‘Parking Lot’ she repeatedly tells us how it ‘kills’ her when she thinks about it, and in ‘Tried To Tell You’ (the year’s second best song so far) she tells us that ‘I feel as useless/as a tree in a city park/standing as a symbol/of what we have blown apart.’ Even when her songs aren’t directly about the state of play today, she litters her tales with nods to the natural world.
So these are undoubtedly weighty subjects. But the other spectacular thing about Ignorance is how lush and joyful it sounds, how loose and free. Without the words it would sound like an album written by someone without a care in the world. That is a testament to the songwriting of Lindeman on this record, as well as indication of how well she has been supported by her band to develop this new sound. I started this review by saying that I never thought The Weather Station would create a mainstream album – now, I’ll be shocked if Ignorance doesn’t win the biggest prizes, come near the top of a lot of Best of 2021 lists, and earn its band a whole host of new fans. It’s so good that I haven’t had space in this review to mention even half of its best moments.
Words by Fran Slater