How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars, the new album from Tamara Lindeman, a.k.a. The Weather Station, was written during the same period as 2021’s Ignorance and subsequently recorded in three days prior to the onset of the Covid pandemic. If Ignorance is more fully instrumented and frequently activistic in tone, How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars is relatively austere in its approach, an understated yet boldly emotional response to the precarious nature of contemporary life.
Opener “Marsh”, scaled down to a piano accompaniment and a few strategically placed ambient swirls, puts the focus on Lindeman’s voice and lyrics. As with previous work, Lindeman addresses weighty themes, though the tone here is more elegiac, verging on post-apocalyptic, as if she’s speaking from an alternate reality or vantage point decades in the future. Avoiding convenient fatalism, Lindeman sublimates palpable sorrow, touching on political and cultural divisions (“I obliterate your positions, and you know just how to obliterate mine”), environmental beauty (“the blue and green, and light green, and yellow green”), and the grim reality of climate crisis (“black water puckers with bodies”). At the song’s end, she expresses hope that humans can find common ground and cease their reckless destruction of the planet (“Everything balanced on a kiss”).
Lindeman employs a similar sonic approach on “Endless Time”, resonant piano chords undergirding her pensive melody. Devoid of percussion, as is the entire album, the track initially occurs as funereal; however, as it unfolds, Lindeman strives for acceptance, embracing a subtly equanimous shift in tone. “But it’s only the end of an endless time,” she sings, capturing a moment of existential fullness while recognizing the bittersweet reality of impermanence, the exquisite yet fleeting span of a life, a species, a planet, even a universe.
On “Taught”, Lindeman’s sonorous chords and tinkly notes are textured by sax, clarinet, and flute parts, the added instrumentation expanding the project’s audial range. “Ignorance”, too, benefits from a broadened compositional MO. Occurring as a riff on Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale”, Lindeman is haunted by the otherworldly sound of a magpie, bemoaning the human mind’s proclivity to analyze, dismantle, and commodify all things elusive and/or sacrosanct.
“Stars” is one of the album’s high points, featuring Lindeman at her most vulnerable. Describing her experience of being in the desert on the eve of 2020, she reflects on the human story and humanity’s role in evolution. Throughout the piece, she navigates hope and discouragement, avoiding, however, sentimental optimism or predictable negativity. “I swear to god this world will break my heart,” she concludes after contrasting fireworks with a falling star, treating each as a metaphor for the cyclicality of light and dark, birth and death.
“Sway” transforms a common experience (“You came upstairs in a rush, your headphones on”) into a stirring portrait of authentic interaction. As with previous tracks, Lindeman adopts a compelling perspective, neither disengaged nor overly immersed. When she concludes, “you sway, I sway, and if I could love you more I have not yet found a way,” the line lands as mystical, transpersonal, and trans-circumstantial, offering a view that contrasts the possible timelessness of love with the finiteness of physical and egoic existence. On closer “Loving You”, Lindeman gives a potential partner and perhaps the world at large the benefit of the doubt. “Now that I’m well and able to,” she concludes, “I’m on my way to loving you.”
While much of Lindeman’s recent work spotlights her knack for lush arrangements and declarative statements, How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars accentuates her nuanced artistry, including her gift for vocal and sonic restraint and lyrical precision. This is a project in which each gossamer note seems mindfully articulated, each evocative phrase conscientiously composed and performed. There’s courage here. And humility. How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars occurs as a timely reach for compassion and transcendent love – love for the wounded self and others, for the endangered world, for life in its myriad forms.