One of the unintended consequences of the streaming boom was a change in the very structure of pop song. Listeners who only had to click a button to explore an unfathomable amount of music quickly lost their patience. They were less willing to listen to long songs; they were less willing to wait for songs to develop, even for three minutes; they liked songs that sounded like other songs they knew. And so, in the last decade or so, pop has adopted a formula: songs now tend to open up with a huge hook, and then throw more hooks over it, and then – because a little group of songwriters and producers is considered safe. hands – they are redone over and over again in barely different forms.
This perhaps explains part of the gratitude with which critics have fallen for Tamara Lindeman, who records as Weather Station, and William Doyle (who previously recorded as East India Youth but now works under his own name. ). It’s not that they’re not good – both, especially Lindeman, are very good – but it would be hard to locate anything particularly new they are doing on the albums they promoted during their live broadcasts.
The weather station Ignoringis a beautifully played and arranged soft rock, whose concession to novelty is its lyrical focus on the climate crisis; Doyle’s new album, Large periods of muddy weather, it’s electronic pop art. You might have heard both on the radio in 1983, although Doyle would have been a staple of John Peel and the weather station would more likely have popped up on Paul Gambaccini.
The best of the Weather Station is somewhat reminiscent of the Roxy Music style perfected in the early 1980s, where the bass plays root notes that anchor the song, and other instruments exude sprays of instrumental scent over it: a pinch of guitar here, piano mist there. It’s the only kind of rock that sounds sophisticated, a dream of twilight cocktails and sweet conversations, and it was backed up by the visual presentation – neon bars instead of freezing lights, lots of shadows. Lindeman’s group all wore matching costumes, which could have enhanced that air of elegance, but for their matching Covid masks as well.
The suspicious feeling was undermined by Lindeman’s words. She is a very sharp writer, with an eye for details. On ‘Atlantic’, she contrasted the joy of lying in a field, watching a sunset and drinking wine, with the fear of what was outside of that moment: read the headlines . On “Parking Lot”, she contrasted seeing a bird fly before landing to tweet its song which is repeated endlessly with the desire of the interpreter not to have to do the same. It sounds trite, put on so crudely, but put against the music, it was heartbreaking.
We can quibble that sometimes the songs did not really do much: like the midfielder of a Brazilian team not quite at the top, they went around in circles without really moving forward, albeit in an extremely attractive way. But then she would release a song as good as “Separated,” moving from section to section with a purpose, each loaded with melodies you could feel. Lindeman is an important talent.
Doyle’s was the model for the low-budget stream: a few cameras, a small room, and some foliage. There were times – like on ‘Who Cares’ – where you felt the eternal frustration with musicians who see themselves as experimental but also have a knack for melody: man, songs are not unworthy! But there were also times when you saw his very definite gifts. “I Need To Keep You in My Life” was a bunch of different songs in one: its arpeggiated synth patterns were taken from that branch of electronics that turns to systems music; Doyle’s guitar sparkles with post-punk dynamics; it had post-rock greatness but at the heart of it was a wonderful folk melody.
While Peel might have been his natural home, Doyle is the kind of talent who every once in a while strikes up a song so overwhelming that one of the daytime sportsmen would have picked it up. This bookish and sober man would have ended up The top of the pops amid the screaming teens, Black Lace in neon leather on the next scene. That the modern pop world denies him this moment in the studio lights, and his songs that ubiquitous moment, is one of the sadnesses of this era of streaming.