TOMBERLIN – ” i don’t know who needs to hear this… “

Posted: June 20, 2022 in MUSIC
Tags: , ,

Tomberlin’s  second full length album, “i don’t know who needs to hear this…”, documents struggles with identity, belonging, and isolation. These are timely topics that she tackles with a dose of empathy with an eye towards experimenting with different musical styles. One of the finest practitioners of this sparse musicality is Sarah Beth Tomberlin, who performs under her surname. Her 2018 debut album “At Weddings” drew comparisons to ambient icons like Grouper and staples of contemporary indie like Julien Baker. Her new album, is grander than anything she’s done before

In spite of the album’s strongest passages, at its beginning and, then again, most of the way through, “i don’t know” is assembled in such a way as to echo times of confidence against those of feeling lost that can leave the listener in a confounding spot.

Recorded in Brooklyn with producer Philip Weinrobe, known for his work with Adrienne Lenker and Buck Meek, the record features contributions from Shahzad Islamly and Told Slant’s Felix Walworth. Where “At Weddings” was written without a goal in mind and carries that homespun air, 

With Tomberlin’s past recordings planted firmly in the indie camp, it’s encouraging to see her go down some different paths. Especially given that’s where the album captures most of its magic. “Wasted” from the 2020-released “Projections” EP gave a flavour of what “i don’t know” explores more fully, with backing beat tracks that favour In Rainbows-era Radiohead entering right at the offset on album opener “easy.” The following track, “born again runner,” deals with the scars of an evangelical upbringing. Though not an uncommon topic, Tomberlin’s investment of the personal here, along with the commingling of pedal steel and synth drones, makes for one of the album’s most grounded moments. Completing one of “i don’t know’s” strongest passages, “tap” benefits from the contrast of fidgety percussive beats and a laconic, nearly spoken word vocal.

The middle passage of the album is marred by a lack dynamic range which may mirror feelings of hopelessness, but culminates in the low key snark of “collect caller.” The song’s title makes for an antiquated reference to a freeloader who has a habit of “disappearing from the table before the bill is paid,” but as with the songs that come immediately before, the track drifts by unaided by a jazzy sax line. Though the transition is a touch jarring, the energy boost from the following “stoned” and “happy accident” make for a welcome reprieve. Tomberlin pushes her vocals to their most strident and highest range, which elicits a true sense of frustration. “I wanna die, when you say don’t cry,” she retaliates on “happy accident.” The song’s bent notes and corrosive synths make for a clear highlight and recall Sharon Van Etten’s push into different sonic territories.

Tomberlin’s most open hearted vocals benefit the closing two songs, but the energy level is brought back to the album’s middle, along with another lethargic sax solo to close things out. I don’t know’s initial singles—the acronym-styled title track, “tap,” and “happy accident”—ultimately provide the album’s road map. The further experimentation of “tap” and the display of raw emotion on “happy accident” prove more successful than “i don’t know’s” more down tempo moments, even when those mirror the album’s themes more closely.

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