Review Summary: Light your candle, cast your spell
This is the moment I’m entirely convinced Sarah Beth Tomberlin is a master of her craft, and perhaps a mage set out to repair our aging hearts. Her 2018 effort, At Weddings
had some heavy-hitters – an excellent addition to any normie’s indie folk library – but this here puts you in a dumbfounded trance from front to back. It’s more intimate and delicate than its predecessor, yet somehow manages to sound bigger
. Even the barest moments – the soft, occasional breath of a piano or lonely saxophone – feel incredibly powerful, even intimidating. She’s leveled up virtually all her appeal here: the lyrics carry more weight, the music itself has more life to it, and she surpasses even the best of peers like Angel Olsen or Phoebe Bridgers.
There’s an unmistakable human quality to singer-songwriter music that makes it special, but also essentially pointless to decipher from a critical standpoint. It brings our most secret emotions to the surface, often reconnecting scrambled parts of our childhood with our current mindset. For me personally, this moment comes within the vivid confines of the percussion-heavy “Tap.” A familiar rhythm of sprinklers brings into focus a vibrant green field: it’s my favorite childhood park and playground. My parents would drop my brother and I off there for a kid’s summer day-camp and we would run wild and – mostly – ignore the counselors tasked with keeping an eye on us. The world was our oyster; I can oddly picture it like it was yesterday. These warm memories suddenly feel heavy, as the painfully honest self-reflection shifts to present day. When Tomberlin croons "always wondering if I’ll go to hell" and "I should sleep more but I’m always wide awake", everything comes crashing down.
I Don’t Know Who Needs To Hear This
, is all about these highs and lows we experience throughout life. It’s a bit ridiculous how many emotions are flowing through each song – as if it’s running on an unstoppable current tapped into the human psyche. Everything unravels so smoothly as the Kentucky songwriter takes her time with each passionate reflection. Though the heart of the album typically beats to the peaceful quality of a gently plucked guitar – and effectively so – it flourishes to new heights musically with the help of several guest musicians and flawless production touches. “Collect Caller” pulls in New York musician Stuart Bogie for a thriving but meticulous saxophone contribution. It proves the perfect choice alongside Tomberlin’s fragile demeanor, adding depth and warmth to some of her most lighthearted recollections. On the other hand, the 70s-esque guitar tone of “Stoned” has an irresistible foot-tapping rock ‘n’ roll feel to it that feels much less contained – soaked in a just a bit of psychedelic appeal. I think we’re good to conclude this album has something for everyone, even those less invested in the thoughtful lyricism. You can tell how much care was put into the entire listening experience. Everything about it is completely satisfying, and it rewards you the more you spend time with it.
As I get lost in the guitar fuzz and charm of “Happy Accident” or the haunting piano melody of “Memory”, I’m simply giddy. What can I say, I’m a nostalgic guy. Every song on IDKNWTHT
is strong on its own merit, but when digested as a whole, the album is overwhelming in the best kind of way that stirs the soul. For an album with so many emotional peaks and valleys, things end with a sense of resolution on the comforting title track. With its reassuring lyrics and guest musician Felix Walworth (Told Slant) trading verses with her as naturally as can be, it emits a strong sense of inner peace. Even through its darkest moments, Tomberlin has an optimistic outlook. As I continue to face my own demons and mental health battles, I can tell I’ll be unravelling and reflecting with IDKWNTWH
for quite some time. It’s a bittersweet and authentic ride – an album that bridges the gap between being young and “trusting the invisible” to just trying to make sense of this mess around us. My baby girl is getting older, and it won’t be long before she’s running through that same park from my childhood, the sun warm on her pale skin. I wonder how long she’ll be able to stay in the light before she’s shrouded in darkness; I hope it’s longer than I did. Yet, I know someday she’ll realize – as we all must – one can’t exist without the other.