Still No Mother
On the spacious and somber Still No Mother, Colorado songwriter Logan Farmer processes and explores climate change anxiety using the framework of the American folk song. The album grew from an initial concept of imagining the songs farmhands will sing when their acreage has dried up or burned, and rising sea levels begin engulfing the coasts—not unlike those sung by Woody Guthrie during the devastation of the Dust Bowl. While much art on this subject focuses on external imagery like glacial melt or wildfires, Farmer instead points his writing inward to examine the human mind’s relationship to this impending reality, and the psychological burdens therein. The resulting ambient-folk suite places his earnest croon within a mosaic of orchestral strings, distant piano, and well-placed flutters of electronics, which emerge like artifacts in the rubble of the dusty future his lyrics depict. “The music is intentionally gentle and delicate with shards of piercing dissonance scattered throughout,” explains Farmer. “The intention was to capture the quiet moments of contemplation before the storm comes, as we peek through the cracks in the wall to catch a glimpse of the approaching danger, now a growing dot on the horizon.”
Still No Mother introduces itself with a minute of looming droning on opener “River Black.” A song about Farmer’s relationship to songwriting and the album’s concept, it was inspired by Paul Kingsnorth’s book Savage Gods, which reminded him to appreciate writing as an ancient, elemental artform following a bout with writer’s block. “River Black” ends with an expansive string arrangement from collaborator Annie Leeth, as a far off spoken word sample delivers a cryptic message. “Sorrowbirds,” a stark barroom ballad about alcoholism and feeling hopeless and untethered, is bolstered by the album’s first explicit use of a drum machine. Further into Still No Mother, on “War is Body” Farmer assumes the perspective of a person grappling with maintaining a loving relationship at the end of the 21st century, in a world forever altered by climate damage. “Impossible Now” further deepens the narrative, written through the eyes of a death-like figure observing the comings and goings of this bleak realm’s inhabitants.
The latter half of Still No Mother begins with one of the album’s most barren and lyrically powerful pieces, “Rome, Through a Fog.” “So it is written / I’m afraid of myself / Formless and hidden / I remain someone else / Gonna need more rope / If I’m to tie him up / Gonna need more rope / If I’m to climb the wall,” Farmer sings as the desolation dissolves into faraway church bells shrouded in a fog of cassette hiss. “Vessels” spins around a center of quiet anger, which takes turns with the feelings of shame, guilt, and complacency in any mind contemplating the gravity of climate change. “The Seventh Seal” draws its name from the Bergman film (which drew its title from the Bible’s Book of Revelations), and pairs Farmer and Strokach’s voices to create a deep and memorable melody. Album closer “No One Owes Us Anything,” which Farmer says is “about the collective guilt we share for what we’ve done to the planet, and how we may not deserve anything less than what we’ve been given,” departs on a subtly hopeful tone despite the unapologetic misanthropy of its lyrics. Here at the very end of Still No Mother, a pulsating drum machine gives way to the sounds of seabirds—one of many field recordings that occupy the intimate corners of the album. “All of the field recordings come from a trip my partner and I took to Iceland,” Farmer explains. “The last thing you hear on the album is a recording of a glacial lagoon, where massive chunks of a glacier melt into the Atlantic, surrounded by seabirds and other tourists.”
The beguiling Still No Mother weaves a shortlist of storytelling influences and devices into a poignant set of dichotomies: organic and inorganic; celestial and earthen; delicate and dissonant. Though Farmer’s impressive array of textures and instruments and use of ambience and interstitial collage might suggest otherwise, Still No Mother is folk music at its heart. And if the task of folk musicians is to tell the tales of their day, Logan Farmer succeeds in documenting through song an inner life of a person watching the specter of climate change grow on the horizon.