Sarah Beth Tomberlin had a religiously conservative upbringing, shielded from the intrusion of most pop culture references by her parents until she left Christian school aged 17. On her resoundingly beautiful debut At Weddings, Tomberlin charts an adolescence and young adulthood spent casting off the confinements of youth.
It is a hushed meditation on the alienation encountered when one challenges everything they ever knew, questions a faith that was instilled in them, and seeks the comfort previously found in text in the arms of another. The album’s title serves as a clue to the themes of seclusion and remoteness contained within. As where other than at weddings are you brought into direct confrontation with the things in life you long for but don’t yet have, or found once and have lost?
Guarded and beautifully measured, At Weddings has an absorbingly intimate quality. Lonesome reverberating guitars ricochet off the sparse percussion while tempered piano lines chime and assuage. Whether it be the swathes of white noise on “Tornado”, the yowl of feedback on “Self-Help” or the rudimental piano line on sublime opener “Any Other Way” each embellishment hangs as if it were a carefully placed decoration. Above all of this Tomberlin’s voice shines as the warm heart of the record. Possessing a hymnal gravitas, but stripped of any pomp or ceremony as showcased on the albums aching centrepiece “I’m Not Scared”. Hidden within the secluded corners are echoes of those who have come before: Smith, Oberst, Van Etten, Baker, yet Tomberlin manages to retain her own unique identity throughout.
These songs are life lessons sketched in pencil on loose sheets, subject to the fluttering winds of fate and reinterpretation over time. As acoustic guitar decays and fades on album closer “February” Tomberlin leaves us with the line “But when will someone hold my hand and say that they care”. The paths we follow in life are unique, but the desire not to walk them alone is universal. Although there may be no epiphanies here, there is salvation to be found in the sharing. A loss of faith brings with it an existential cross to bear. A burden which we all must carry; a burden, the weight of which is made all the lighter by records like this.