Tomberlin - At Weddings

by Brian Thompson Rating:9 Release Date:2018-08-10
Tomberlin - At Weddings
Tomberlin - At Weddings

It’s nearly impossible to speak about Tomberlin’s debut LP, At Weddings, without leaning heavily on a wave of hyperbolic praise. Kentucky-based singer-songwriter Sarah Beth Tomberlin appears to have emerged a fully formed voice, with immersive songs that meld her strict Christian upbringing with her burgeoning independence. The album is a relatively modest offering, yet these stormy vignettes and ghastly hymns expertly measure the toll of an emotional burden. True art is born out of necessity, and these devastating songs were clearly dying to burst forth in the hopes of exploring life’s unavoidable hardships.

So much of At Weddings dissects the weight imposed by spiritual exploration (“I look for redemption in everybody else / But funny thing is that I always hated church”) but at its core, it attacks a much broader dilemma. Tomberlin’s lyrics are striking, and the sparse arrangements they come packaged in truly give them the necessary space to properly linger. Each of the stunningly melodic tracks gets tremendous mileage out of a seemingly simple structure, crafted around a barebones guitar or piano riff. While most of the record relies on tasteful minimalist, it can also blossom into an explosion of sound, as on dynamic single “Self-Help”: “Electrocuted in the bathtub / Yellow black my bruises.”

Tomberlin has a commanding presence, with haunting vocals that pierce through the gentle refrains of tracks like “Tornado” and “Untitled 1.” Her sprawling, trance-like tunes (“A Video Game,” “I’m Not Scared”) tap into an unmistakable melancholy, but they never wallow in crippling sadness. By the time we get to the dreamy “Seventeen,” it almost feels like a celebration of life’s constant struggles: “Only love the people who don’t love you back / What is up with that? / Are you done with that?” This blend of morbid humor, youthful restlessness, and ever-present self-doubt makes for a compelling signature sound, calling to mind many groundbreaking lyricists and yet entirely original in itself.

Right up to its chilling closer, “February,” At Weddings is packed to the brim with warmth and empathy, the likes of which most artists spend their entire careers striving to capture. And Tomberlin has reached it on her very first try. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a fruitful trek through a rocky emotional landscape. These ethereal melodies are beautifully primed for reverberating through a crowded concert hall. At once, Tomberlin offers both soothing relief and overwhelming anguish, without sacrificing the potency of either extreme. This album is damn near perfect.

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