In any medium, the ideal follow-up is one that accentuates everything that made the previous effort work, whilst at the same time both jettisoning excess or failed ideas and leaving room for new concepts to flourish. It sounds simple on paper but relatively few sequels meet such criteria and manage to surpass their predecessors consistently and in all areas.
This is a fact that makes The Weather Station’s eponymous fourth outing all the more impressive. This is a record that betters the group’s previous three outings in every way and – given the high quality of their older output – that’s a genuinely impressive feat. It’s an album that sees bandleader Tamara Lindeman both consolidate and expand upon her previous work, resulting in a record that feels very much like the logical next step in her career; but at the same time has enough new ideas to keep things feeling fresh. For those already enamoured by her songcraft, it’s an exciting record that signifies full capitalisation on long held potential.
Lindeman’s last album, 2015’s ‘Loyalty’, was a marked evolution over it’s 2011 predecessor ‘All Of It Was Mine’ and an undeniably excellent album, but the leap forward from that record to this is difficult to overstate. Everything on ‘The Weather Station’ feels more confident and vivid than even the best of previous efforts; Lindeman’s lyricism has long been her calling card and for good reason – articulate and searingly honest, she’s a lyricist that has no trouble in painting hugely vivid narratives interwoven with an often strikingly conversational atmosphere and the raw craft of her songwriting is only refined here. Where previous outings arguably placed more emphasis on words than the music that backed them, ‘The Weather Station’ sees Lindeman’s arrangements match the complexity and razor sharp precision of her lyricism for perhaps the first time.
The album’s musicality is imaginative, well executed and memorable, greatly embellishing the songs found on the record without ever suffocating them. Where string sections have historically been something of a gamble on singer/songwriter LPs – cluttering songs as often as elevating them – arrangements here are sensitive to the acute delicacy of the genre and the often confessional immediacy of the album’s lyrical themes. Bright bursts of backing vocals stand out here, too – the stabs of layered vocal on ‘Impossible’ act as highlights on a page; attention grabbing exclamations that, despite how much they stand out, only push further attention to the lyrics themselves rather than diverging the listener’s attention away from them. Indeed, although most musical touches on the album are vibrant to the point where they’re impossible not to notice, it’s for that the fact that they always remain subservient to the song itself that they work so incredibly well.
Musicality was, by and large, relatively sparse on previous outings, but while the sheer clarity of Lindeman’s voice and words meant this was never an issue, going back to The Weather Station’s previous records after having heard their self titled offering does highlight just how much the more dynamic, varied arrangements have added to Lindeman’s songs. ‘The Weather Station’ is an album of powerful, well written tracks which have enough thematic and sonic variety that proceedings never risk repetition. On the album’s sparser moments – such as stark opener ‘Free’ – overdubs are minimal (at least until haunting strings creep into the mix towards the end of the song) and even live instrumentation is barebones. Such stylistic choices lend the song a sense of spaciousness and breathing room that sits in contrast to the album’s more thickly arranged moments and lend the album as a whole a sense of depth and even duality.
The dense attack of ‘Complicit’ and slowly unfurling nuance of ‘The Most Dangerous Thing About You’ mark the most overtly arranged and arguably most musically ambitious songs Lindeman has penned so far and it’s the seismic leap in music advancement and ambition that marks ‘The Weather Station’ as a truly great follow-up album. Even at its most complexly arranged, ‘The Weather Station’ is an album carried by the iridescent musicality of Lindeman’s voice. Powerfully emotive and resonant, her vocal delivery throughout the album articulates the varied themes of the record with subtlety and a real emotional punch.
The Weather Station has long been an intriguing musical entity and Tamara Lindeman a very talented songwriter. While the sheer impact of the group’s fourth album doesn’t detract from the strengths of their previous efforts, it has to be said that her fourth outing is by far Lindeman’s strongest so far, and a significant artistic progression from her previous work in almost every way. It’s hugely satisfying to see a follow-up that marks such a pronounced evolution from past works and, with their self titled album, The Weather Station have crafted a truly excellent album.