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Tomberlin - "At Weddings" | Album Review

by Kris Handel (@khandel84)

At Weddings is the debut record from Louisville, KY native Sarah Beth Tomberlin initially released on Joyful Noise, upon the recommendation of Mirah, for a limited series release.  Tomberlin is helped by Owen Pallett on most of this reflective and ruminative collection of songs. This release is padded out by the release of three additional songs that add to the overall atmosphere and fit snugly in place with the original release. At Weddings addresses many internal and external conflicts that have a wide-reaching berth that speaks to Tomberlin’s empathy and emotional intelligence in her songwriting.

“Any Other Way” starts the album off in a very emotionally direct and questioning manner that introduces many themes of self-questioning and anxiety that lays at the heart of the rest of the record. Tomberlin’s vocal performance is one of resolute strength despite the anxiety of interpersonal and spiritual relationships and the hesitating desire for something new instead of settling for comfort expressed in the lyrics. The atmosphere set on “Tornado” is a thing of beauty with a consistent swirl of synthesizers, strings, and very simple repeating piano giving the impression of being caught up in the air with the prospect of being thrown anywhere at any given time as Tomberlin works through the higher registers of her vocal range. The use of space is exceptional as the tension builds around billowing clouds of doubt and emotions.

“A Video Game” and “I’m Not Scared” are two of the new additions to the record, and they impressively work through issues of communication, depression, self-belief, and trust in others.  Tomberlin shows tremendous ability to cut to the core of difficulties with care seen in heartfelt and crushing verses like “If you’re feeling good/Then something’s probably off/You never learned to smile when/You’re saying nothing’s wrong/I knew you’re lying to me/Let me break down the wall.” “I’m Not Scared” works through doubts in faith and being able to find some resolution of said doubt inherent in questioning your faith and commitment, as well as struggles that arise with personal identity. “Self-Help” is another song that addresses depression, anxiety, and acceptance with a remarkable sense of maturity and inner strength that is frankly inspiring.

At Weddings has a very confessional feel to it, highlighted by the masterful use of empty spaces, echo and general atmosphere that hammers home the deep and heavy emotional searching. Tomberlin tackles the questions and struggles in growing up and working through stress and difficult emotional changes with a sturdiness that is uplifting and empowering. At Weddings is an album that is full of questions about the pressures of young adulthood, personal strength, resilience, and the role that faith of multiple varieties play in one’s interpretations and expectations for whatever lays ahead. This is such an astoundingly beautiful, pulsating, from the heart debut from a relatively young artist and its truly a fulfilling listen.