“For however long human beings have been in existence, we have looked at the stars,” Toronto singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman, better known as The Weather Station, writes in the liner notes for her pensive new album, How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars. That sense of hushed wonder permeates the follow-up to her 2021 breakthrough album Ignorance, which lent a lush, more pop-forward bent to Lindeman’s folk-based sound.
Lauded by critics around the world (including our own) and introducing Lindeman to a wider mainstream audience nearly 15 years into her career, the synth-driven Ignorance felt like a turning point for an artist whose quiet, introspective music was more akin to reading a book than topping the charts. For many artists, success often begets two distinct paths: trying to replicate the template that led them there, or embracing the creative freedom it can offer. Lindeman chose the latter—instead of heading further in the pop direction Ignorance hinted at, How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars is the polar opposite: a bare-bones collection of jazz-tinged piano ballads.
Releasing this new album on her own terms, with no expectations, might have become simpler thanks to Ignorance’s acclaim—but How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars was actually born from the “softer, internal” songs (as Lindeman puts it) among dozens written during the same period. Recorded live off the floor—with five of the best players in Toronto’s jazz and experimental music scenes—in March 2020, just as the pandemic was taking hold, the album is a collection of deeply intimate songs touching on love, loss, and the state of the world today.
Lyrically, it’s of a piece with Ignorance’s unflinching examination of relationships with people and the planet, but where that record’s focus on climate anxiety was underpinned by layers of percussive rhythm, How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars allows Lindeman’s words to sit front and center atop spare melodies. Opening track “Marsh” sets the gentle tone, with subtle trumpet and woodwinds offering a sparse pastoral backdrop to Lindeman’s tender, earthy vocals. And while both her singing and songs have often elicited perhaps too easy a comparison to Joni Mitchell, the jazz influence throughout this album draws out that connection much more clearly than before. Like Mitchell, Lindeman’s lyrics are at once poetic and plainspoken, touching on both the old and the new all in one line: “The year was unrelenting, we argued all the time / I obliterate your positions, and you know just how to obliterate mine / Online, we talk—or say we talk—mute and block.”
Funnily enough, while Ignorance didn’t have a title track, a song by that name appears on this album instead—and proves to be one of the most memorable. Gently undulating woodwinds sweep through the arrangement like a wash of watercolor paint; it’s just enough embellishment to burnish an already evocative bit of musical and lyrical storytelling, one where Lindeman again turns her eye to the everyday yet astounding presence of nature.
It’s easy to see how a song like that, or the flute-dappled “To Talk About,” could have potentially made it onto Ignorance had they been afforded a heavier, more produced approach. Given the deeply vulnerable quality of all the tracks on How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars, however, Lindeman’s instincts to allow them to breathe—recording them as simply as possible in an improvisational way—reveals a different facet of her songcraft, one that’s just as accomplished as the arguably more accessible sound of Ignorance.
The quieter nature of How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars also puts the focus squarely on Lindeman’s writing style—like the best short stories, many of her songs are finely sketched relationship narratives that sound intensely personal but also removed enough to feel keenly relatable. “I was thinking of my song / And what I’d place inside / If I could bury light, in something I could write,” Lindeman sings halfway through the album. How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars might well be the manifestation of that lyric—if Ignorance was a step forward for The Weather Station’s career, this surprise release underscores that the direction she heads next will be entirely up to her.