The Weather Station
(Fat Possum *** 1/2)
“Is it all right if I don’t want to sing tonight?” Tamara Lindeman asks on “Parking Lot,” a standout track at the heart of her fifth album as the Weather Station. “I know you are tired of seeing tears in my eyes / But are there not good reasons to cry?”
Indeed there are. And there are some big ones on Ignorance, a breakup album in which the Canadian songwriter twines together personal heartbreak with a mournful sadness about humankind’s desecration of the natural world.
That might make Ignorance sound like a joyless pop music lecture. But this fluid, seamless 11-song collection is not that. To these ears, it’s the first great indie-pop album of 2021.
Previous Weather Station albums have built on a folk-rock foundation, but Ignorance moves with assurance into shimmering art-pop textures. Strings and synths and saxophones swirl as the singer’s voice rises and falls with Joni Mitchell inflections.
Lindeman is an expert noticer who conjures a world in a few lines, like a finely sketched short story. The wintry “Subdivisions” begins in the car as “the cold metallic scent of snow caught in my throat as I reached out to turn on the radio.” But she can’t outrun the feeling she’s drifted off course: “What if I misjudged in the wildest of emotion? I took this way too far.”
Ignorance has an eye for beauty, valued for its fragility. Bad news is everywhere — “I really should know better than to read the headlines,” Lindeman sings on “Atlantic.” But rather than be dragged into the muck, she regards the world in wonder. “My God, I thought,” she sings with a gasp. “My God, what a sunset.”
— Dan DeLuca
Archie Shepp & Jason Moran
Let My People Go
The same attributes that make pianist Jason Moran one of the most visionary and inventive artists in modern jazz — his expansive interests, perceptive ears, and audacious imaginative leaps chief among them — also make him an ideal collaborator. Witness this outing with legendary saxophonist Archie Shepp, a soul-stirring session that brings together classic spirituals and jazz standards.
The Germantown-raised Shepp, one of the defining voices of the 1960s New Thing in jazz, may no longer summon the full ferocity of his Fire Music past, but what remains is undeniably powerful in its rough-hewn eloquence.
His once-overwhelming sound is now laced with crags and rasps, but he harnesses the power of those time-worn elements to conjure a breathy, strained tone that is even more compelling for its imperfections. That’s also true of the gravelly baritone that Shepp uses to achingly recite lyrics.
Moran accompanies the saxophonist’s keening wails with a serrated lyricism, undergirded by ominous thunder.
The two meet on the common ground of the American spiritual, imbuing even jazz classics like Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” and John Coltrane’s “Wise One” with a solemn reverence that doesn’t break the spell cast by deeply felt renditions of “Go Down Moses” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”
These intimate, moving performances capture the soulful lament and uplift of those songs while inevitably reflecting on their relevance to our times.
— Shaun Brady
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
(CYHSY/Secretly Distribution ***)
Alec Ounsworth’s voice threatens to overshadow everything else in Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. It’s an acquired taste, sometimes piercing, sometimes bleating, sometimes tender, always anxious. But it can also be thrilling when he leans into it with abandon or when he rushes syllables with nervous energy, as he does on New Fragility, CYHSY’s sixth album.
It’s the most consistent set of songs yet from Philly’s Ounsworth, the sole constant in CYHSY. He plays mostly everything — keyboards, guitars, toy piano, some Neil Young-like harmonica — except bass and drums (which sometimes come from Centro-Matic’s Will Johnson, who helped produce the album.) The arrangements are full of nuanced, inventive details that seamlessly balance everything,
Like Clap Your Hands’ much-loved 2005 debut, the new album’s songs often build to perky climaxes, although the lyrics focus on broken relationships, both personal and political. “I never want to take another chance on anyone,” Ounsworth sings on the title track.
“Hesitating Nation” depicts a culture that lacks empathy. “Thousand Oaks,” one of the album’s catchiest tunes, decries gun violence. The seemingly joyful “CYHSY, 2005” interrogates self-sabotaging motives for touring.
The dichotomies — the edgy vocals and the subtle music, the upbeat hooks and downbeat lyrics — make New Fragility fascinating and rewarding.
— Steve Klinge