words by tom johnson
― Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
There’s this occasionally-spoken rule about music writing that suggests reviews shouldn’t be overtly personal, that they should bridge the gap between the writer and the listener in a way that is applicable to all but still organic and real. This isn’t that. This is me, sitting in a place I’m learning to call home, alone in here for the first time in a long time. A place with old floorboards that I haven’t properly mapped out yet. A place that today is still, and eerie, the silence something like a companion you can’t converse with but can’t ignore. It’s the first day of September and the sun is there and I can see leaves that have begun to turn. That is the scene set, and I am here and nowhere else, and perhaps, now, you’re here too.
And then from somewhere in another room Tomberlin’s new album At Weddings begins to leak in to this space, quietly at first and then seemingly growing louder as it takes root and shape and finds its way to me; that vocal, so weighted down with sentiment it feels ready to crack at any moment, shifting the light and atmosphere in an instant, adorning the existing solitude with its own soft sort of power; one of those moments of discovery that lingers for days, like it was meant for you and nobody else.
But it was made for you, too, and ‘At Weddings’ is released today, via Bandcamp; a seven-track mini album that features additional magic from that most fruitful of magicians himself, Owen Pallett, who mastered and produced the record and also appears on the quietly haunting centre-piece “Self-Help”. This record pertinently, defiantly, belongs to Sarah Tomberlin, however, and as it worms its way through the billowing darkness, her voice and vision grows even more significant, not just a soft power but a flood of poignancy that gets in to the cracks of those floorboards, that turns those coloured leaves even more autumnal, that takes over whatever empty space there was.
Opening track “Any Other Way” is an instant draw, a soft strum that gently broods in to life; “I got a book off the shelf today, it’s gonna tell me what I should say. I don’t know how to talk, when you’re looking that way”, Tomberlin sings with tangible desolation. Elsewhere, the stunning “Tornado” pushes her exquisite voice fully to the fore, a tender moment of balance underpinned by far-off undulations, and the closing “February” is perhaps the stand-out track here, a creeping moment of isolation that seems to drift in the ether long after its five-minutes have passed, joining those floating motes of dust, remembered, occasionally, when the sun lands in just the right spot to illuminate it all over again.
A personal, poignant, and often crushing undertaking, “At Weddings” is a remarkable collection of songs, the kind of quiet unraveling that seems to gather its strength from somewhere else entirely; a stark and stirring reminder of the true power of vulnerability and sensitivity. Stream it in full below.
‘At Weddings’ is out now – released in partnership with Joyful Noise Record’s White Label Series