Tamara Lindeman has returned, having barely been away, her gongs for Ignorance still gleaming. An email that both brightened and quietened last Tuesday brought news of an imminent Weather Station album How It Is That I Should Look At The Stars and a new song to hear now, ‘Endless Time’.
‘Endless Time’ is a quiet, subtle song that feels huge. It feels hard to move on from. It is a love song and an act of witness as things fall precipitously apart. The arrangement is simply Lindeman accompanying her own voice on piano, the sound of each softened as if outside in the snow.
Despite the hush there’s a palpable urgency from the opening bar. Lindeman’s vocals arrive simultaneously with the opening piano chord, as if settling introductory chords are an extravagance. She sings “It’s only the end of an endless time / I wake up in my own bed, the curtain open wide / To let in what light the sky has to offer today”.
Lindeman is Canadian and I first imagined the skies darkened by last year’s summer fires rather than winter rainclouds, but it is winter in the song: “We could walk out on the street and buy roses from Spain / lemons and persimmons in December rain.” Lindeman returns to this scene towards the end of the song: “We can still walk out on the street and buy champagne grapes / strawberries and lilies in November rain / It never occurred to us to have to pay.”
So, not to read too much into one word choice but that “still”, from this singer, at this time, surely says: Lytton, British Columbia, literally burned last summer, and in response we are so inert and careless that we are still prepared to fly some fruit ten thousand kilometres so we can throw it in the bin.
So I suppose any question I had that new Weather Station songs would still have climate breakdown as a central theme is already answered by those lines. This song occupies a space in which catastrophe is here and life just carries on: “They don’t put that in the paper / You won’t hear it on the news.” The disconnect derives partly from denial (“Maybe at first, you can’t believe your eyes”) and partly from nihilistic malevolence: “You have to use your eyes / And it’s so painful how everybody lies / Nobody tells it straight / They try so hard not to meet your gaze.” As I write about denial I reflect on my own first sentence in this paragraph, my own use of “still”, as if one climate album is all you get: are you still going on about that?
When you could easily argue that all art in 2022 occupies the same teetering existential space Lindeman is singing from and the artists not explicitly acknowledging climate breakdown should be the ones being questioned: why are you not going on about that? I mean, there are reasons. There are other themes! But when I hear The Weather Station or read Richard Powers and Amitav Ghosh I can feel an impatience with those other themes: if there is any chance that the world is literally not going to be liveable in the lifetime of our grandchildren, then I might look askance at art that disregards this.
In the end, ‘Endless Time’ is a love song. I think it is addressed to a former lover: “We laughed so much we wore lines around our eyes”. The singer remembers a photo of the pair of them. In a song steeped in colour I imagine the photo faded and orange, like the photo in ‘Nightswimming’, taken years ago. Lindeman sings “You can see it in that picture of us from long ago; how we changed”. And it feels that in the time since that photo was taken, since the ‘Nightswimming’ photo was taken, not only have those people changed but everything has changed and the act of remembering has changed.
When the natural world is collapsing, every old picture is an elegy. Listening to ‘Endless Time’ I can’t help but reflect that a photo taken five years ago was taken in when Northern White Rhinos still lived. A photo fifty years ago captured a world in which were three times as many wild animals as there are now. We made it impossible for two thirds of them to survive. Though I know those numbers are true I can’t absorb them, they are too much: Maybe at first, you can’t believe your eyes. And all the evidence is that the future will be worse.
It does seem there might not be any turning back and I think ‘Endless Time’ starts from and bravely ends in that dark sad unforgiving place. What ‘Endless Time’ might be saying as it ends is that we can still have songs, we can even have love songs, but they will be songs in a time of dying.