In a batch of new music videos, the Canadian singer and songwriter Tamara Lindeman, who records as The Weather Station, slinks through the forest in a suit made of mirrors. The garment is a metaphor for how it feels to perform, she told Pitchfork, for how people “want you to reflect back what they feel in their hearts.”
The Weather Station’s new album, Ignorance, has some of that reflective quality, too. Approach it without preconceptions and it sounds like slick, literate pop, which it is. Spare piano chords and restrained percussion frame the opening track, “Robber,” as smears of strings and saxophone gradually fill the canvas around Lindeman’s hushed vocals.“Tried to Tell You” is hooky and bittersweet, the sort of thing that would soundtrack an indie comedy and stick in your head after you left the theater, back when we went to the movies.
Learn about the genesis of Ignorance, though, and you begin to hear something different. The vaguely ominous mood of some tracks becomes acutely so. A tune about a breakup begins to sound like it’s chronicling a more profound rift. This is a pop album, yes, unabashedly so—but it’s also a record of ecological catastrophe steeped in the artist’s grief for the world we’re leaving behind.
Lindeman wrote the 10 songs on Ignorance during a period when she was reading and thinking intensely about climate change. She’d mostly pushed the phenomenon out of mind, she’s told interviewers, until she read a 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “All the sudden you really realize, and it really hits you, that this is going to happen,” she said on The New Yorker Radio Hour. “When you read it laid out, it’s so heavy.” Lindeman wrote “Robber” after reading news stories about how Exxon understood the dire effects of global warming for decades, even as it worked to cast doubt on climate science. (“White table cloth dinners, convention centres, it was all done real carefully,” she sings.) She didn’t set out to write songs about the warming planet, she says, but climate grief infused them all. The result is less an album about climate change than a musical expression of what it feels like to live and love in a time of crisis.
It’s when that underlying darkness boils up from below the music’s glossy surface that Ignorance is most stunning. On “Atlantic,” the album’s standout track, Lindeman recalls lying one evening in a seaside field where “shearwaters reeled overhead,” enjoying a glass of wine. “My god, I thought, what a sunset.” But as the chorus swells, so does a sense of dread she can’t keep at bay, even in such a beautiful moment. “I should get all this dying off my mind,” she sings. “I should really know better than to read the headlines.”
The song’s shearwater reference is apt. Short-tailed Shearwaters washed up in the thousands on the Alaskan coast in 2019, one of several seabird death events in recent years tied to marine heat waves. Climate change is the biggest threat to birds and one reason North America has lost 3 billion of them over the past half-century.
Lindeman is clearly attuned to the avian world. Birds were part of the sonic fabric of her rural Ontario childhood, and now she says they’re welcome companions as she tours cities around the world. Writing the songs on Ignorance, she embraced compassion for these fellow living beings in a rapidly changing world as a worthy musical theme, even if it felt to her like eccentric territory. “To acknowledge that it really matters to me whether or not, like, songbirds survive — you know, it shouldn't be odd to express these things; it should be completely normal,” she told NPR. “But it’s not.”
In “Parking Lot,” it’s poignant when Lindeman watches a bird land on the pavement outside a club where she doesn’t feel up to performing. “It felt intimate to watch it; its small chest rising and falling, as it sang the same song, over and over again, over the traffic and the noise.” Later, in “Trust,” the birds are no longer singing: “Bring me all the evidence,” she croons over moody piano and strings, “the bodies of the common birds, robins, crows, and thrushes, everything that I have loved and all the light touches, while we still have time.” (“I’m terrified of this song,” Lindeman told a Stereogum interviewer.)
Lindeman is far from the only one turning our planetary emergency into extraordinary art. Just before Ignorance came out on February 5, I read Jenny Offill’s taut, menacing climate novel Weather. Both the album and the book capture the way our anthropocene minds simultaneously, awkwardly lug around the mundane and the cataclysmic. On one page, Offill’s narrator—a librarian increasingly obsessed with how to survive catastrophe—orders a second helping of cake. On the next, she tells us: “There are fewer and fewer birds these days. This is the hole I tumbled down an hour ago.”
Like Offill’s book, which is often very funny, Ignorance avoids being heavy-handed with its climate themes. These aren’t protest songs. And yet the album has “something at the core of the story that cannot be narrated directly,” as the writer Leslie Jamison said of Weather, “because to do so would be like looking at the sun.”
Lindeman doesn’t want to face the unspoken thing at the heart of these songs. “Does it matter if I see? Or really can I not just cover my eyes?” she asks. To look straight at the sun would be too much to take, but Ignorance gives us a glimpse as it slips, “blood red,” into the Atlantic.