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"The record was called Loyalty from the beginning—it was the first decision I made about it. It’s a word you usually see written in copperplate script, a virtue: LOYALTY. But the songs don’t treat it that way, just as a thing to unpack. It’s a force that you have to reckon with: loyalty to the dream, to the “work,” to the mythical idea of “you” that somebody thought they saw. It can be a weakness as much as a strength; it can keep you from the reality of your own life, your own self."
- Tamara Lindeman
In excess virtue lies danger, or at least limits to pragmatic action—it’s a lesson hard learned by anyone disillusioned by the erosion of youthful mythologies. Strict fealty to a fixed ideal of identity doesn’t do us any favors as adults. Loyalty, the third and finest album yet by The Weather Station (and the first for Paradise of Bachelors) wrestles with these knotty notions of faithfulness/faithlessness—to our idealism, our constructs of character, our memories, and to our family, friends, and lovers—representing a bold step forward into new sonic and psychological inscapes. It’s a natural progression for Toronto artist Tamara Lindeman’s acclaimed songwriting practice. Recorded at La Frette Studios just outside Paris in the winter of 2014, in close collaboration with Afie Jurvanen (Bahamas) and Robbie Lackritz (Feist), the record crystallizes her lapidary songcraft into eleven emotionally charged vignettes and intimate portraits, redolent of fellow Canadians Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and David Wiffen, but utterly her own.
Lindeman describes La Frette, housed in an enormous, crumbling 19th-century mansion, as “a secret garden, a place of enchantment and grace”: walls mantled in ivy and lions, corridors piled high with discarded tape machines, old reels, and priceless guitars. As she puts it, “Recording where we did meant we embraced beauty—we weren’t afraid of it being beautiful.” Like the record itself, it’s a quietly radical statement, especially since certain passages achieve a diaphanous eeriness and harmonic and rhythmic tension new to The Weather Station. The stacked vocal harmonies of “Tapes,” the drifting, jazz-inflected chording in “Life’s Work,” and the glacial percussion in “Personal Eclipse” contribute to a pervading sense of clock-stopping bloom and smolder, recalling the spooky avant-soul of Terry Callier’s Occasional Rain.
Beyond the decaying decadence and vintage gear, the brokedown palace atmosphere of La Frette afforded a more significant interior luxury as well, one stated with brutal honesty in the stunning “Shy Women”: “it seemed to me that luxury would be to be not so ashamed, not to look away.” Accordingly, Loyalty brings a freshly unflinching self-examining gaze and emotional and musical control to The Weather Station’s songs. She is an extraordinary singer and instrumentalist—on Loyalty she plays guitar, banjo, keys, and vibes—but Lindeman has always been a songwriter’s songwriter, recognized for her intricate, carefully worded verse, filled with double meanings, ambiguities, and complex metaphors. Though more moving than ever, her writing here is almost clinical in its discipline, its deliberate wording and exacting delivery, evoking similarly idiosyncratic songsters from Linda Perhacs to Bill Callahan.
Outside her musical practice, Lindeman also happens to be an accomplished film and television actor, and it’s her directorial eye for quietly compelling characters and the rich details of the everyday, Bressonian in its specificity and scope, that drives the limpid singularity of The Weather Station’s songs. As in Bresson’s films, there is no trace of theater here, no brittle singer-songwriter histrionics, but rather a powerful performative focus and narrative restraint, a commitment to what the auteur called the “simultaneous precision and imprecision of music.” Despite the descriptive delicacy, the album never lapses into preciousness or sentimentality, instead retaining its barbs and bristles and remaining resolutely clear-eyed and thick-skinned. Lyrically, Loyalty inverts and involutes the language of confession, of regret, of our most private and muddled mental feelings, by externalizing those anxieties through exquisite observation of the things and people we accumulate, the modest meanings accreted during even our most ostensibly mundane domestic moments. (“Your trouble is like a lens,” she discerns in “I Mined,” “through which the whole world bends.”)
“Tapes” and “I Could Only Stand By” expose and exalt the quotidian—“the little tapes” hidden beneath a lover’s bed, “the sunken old moorings” at the “bruise-colored lake”—without romanticizing these scenes of, respectively, grief and guilt. “Like Sisters” analyzes the darker contours of a friendship with devastating scrutiny. The breathless momentum of “Way It Is, Way It Could Be”—“both are,” she sings of the way we sometimes live, for better or for worse, amid multiple truths—hinges on a mysterious moment when two brown dogs die underwheel, then don’t, and that gut-sickness is overturned, a sin redeemed with a second glance. “Floodplain” and “Personal Eclipse” are also road songs about traveling through, and owning, the empty places in-between, literally and figuratively—what Lindeman deems “the various ways people try to disappear from themselves, in physical distance, in politeness.”
To invoke Melville (author of PoB’s namesake story), “extreme loyalty to the piety of love” can be a destabilizing force, a kind of bondage from which we must emancipate ourselves. The line is from his strange masterpiece Pierre, or the Ambiguities; The Weather Station’s Loyalty could quite easily support the same subtitle for the fascinating ways it navigates the deep canyons between certainty and uncertainty, faith and doubt.
+ The third and finest album yet by Toronto artist Tamara Lindeman, recorded with Afie Jurvanen (Bahamas) and Robbie Lackritz (Feist), Loyalty crystallizes her lapidary songcraft into eleven emotionally charged vignettes and intimate portraits, redolent of fellow Canadians Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and David Wiffen, as well as past collaborators Doug Paisley and Daniel Romano.
+ Available on 150g virgin vinyl as an LP, with heavy-duty matte jacket, full-color inner sleeve, and full lyrics, as well as on gatefold CD and digital formats.
+ Vinyl edition includes digital download coupon.