A few years ago I was marking a significant birthday on a tiny island off Thailand’s west coast. On one of the cloudless sky-blue-sky days, I wandered along a deserted beach, the warm white sand getting between my sandalled toes, the sea looking so clean and so pure. Everything felt perfect.
Then, in front of me, I saw a plastic carrier bag that had been washed up onto the shore. It shocked me! It sobered me from my blissful daydream. Suddenly, I could see that my tranquil hideaway was, one day, going to be destroyed, not just by litter, but by things that were bigger, and more pernicious. And that all of this beauty would eventually be destroyed.
I'm reminded of this scene when every time I listen to 'Atlantic' from the Weather Station's profound 'Ignorance' album. Sure, Canadian Tamara Lindeman may be looking out at a different ocean, but the juxtaposition of the overwhelming beauty in the verses ("My God" I thought "My god, what a sunset"), the soft wind and pink clouds with the reality of the choruses ("...I should get all this dying off of my mind/ I should really know better than to read the headlines"), is achingly similar.
What makes The Weather Station's fifth album so poignant is that it is not a protest record. The climate grief Lindeman expresses is emotional, heartfelt, and a personal political, one. This is music that touches the soul and does not scream at you through a megaphone. Lindeman may share Noam Chomsky's ongoing obsession with the hastening of the Doomsday Clock towards midnight, but her observations are wrapped in tunes that are reminiscent of Talk Talk circa 'The Colour of Spring.' Her voice shifting from quiet internal monologue to gentle crooning and the occasional burst of falsetto.
Furthermore, the number of pop songs that confront a country's colonial past are limited and, when they do exist, are brash affairs (I'm thinking specifically of Midnight Oil's didactic 'Beds are Burning'). This is what makes opener 'Robber' so special, the probable identity of the thief is only glimpsed in the penultimate verse ('the robber... had permission by laws, permission of banks'), you, the listener, get to put the pieces together.
Her character may be the recipient of colonialist propaganda designed to keep her ignorant of her country's past. And there it is, the word 'Ignorance', whether enforced by an external organisation (she has frequently made reference to the findings by Exxon in the 80s who, following their own research, claimed that climate change was not an issue), to the desire to keep oneself hidden away and not contemplate the devastating truths about our future.
There are moments on 'Ignorance' where a crumbling relationship is a metaphor for environmental neglect and yet, there are songs such as 'Loss' and the heart-rending 'Separated' that appear to be just about crumbling relationships. It's what lift Lindeman to higher level as a songwriter, there are no explicit explanations.
By expanding her music palette (Lindeman swapped writing on guitar for piano on this album), she has also been able to refocus her lyrics and vocals. 'Ignorance' may musically be The Weather Station's most accessible record, but her lyrics have are far more nuanced and powerful than before. 'Ignorance' is a remarkable record and Tanya Lindeman is our Songwriter of the Year.