Listen: Tomberlin – Projections

By Wes Muilenburg

Photography by Ebru Yildiz

The intersection of faith and love will never not be complicated. There are no straightforward answers, and queerness only ever seems to make things even more confusing.

In the end, there’s only acceptance. Holiness is inherent in an act as intimate as coming out – acceptance blends with the raw self-exposure of making such an integral part of you knowable to others, whether it’s your friends, a partner, or family

The words transform into a hymn, especially when they’re sung by Sarah Beth Tomberlin. The Los Angeles-via-Louisville singer-songwriter interrogates her own love on Projections, her new EP for Saddle Creek.

And I never felt ashamed in your embrace /
Holding on for hours

The damage left by her Baptist upbringing is being gradually healed by a loving embrace. Tomberlin writes from the wholly unique perspective of someone who was raised to believe that homosexuality was a sin, only to eventually realize her own queerness. She interconnects those burgeoning feelings in a way that speaks directly to the experiences of any person who has gone through the same thing. As one of those people myself, a great deal of the lyricism on Projections feels almost too familiar.

“Hindsight is 20/20, and Tomberlin is looking back at the fumbling fantasies of youth through the lens of the present.”

Tomberlin narrates the quiet moments that attain paramount importance in the life of a young queer person, from finally finding the words to express what has been simmering in your heart, to the divinity of sharing songs with someone you love (even if you’ll never tell them how you feel.) Lead single “Wasted” depicts a “sacred crush” where the words are uncertain and the emotions are overwhelming. A new language has to be discovered to express what was previously buried underneath layers of doctrine and fear.

Say a prayer /
Lay your hands on me

“Sin” is the fulcrum of Projections, a lightly jaunty song. Hindsight is 20/20, and Tomberlin is looking back at the  fumbling fantasies of youth through the lens of the present. Past, present, and future swirl together to become a verdant oasis of memory and reality. Captivating melodrama engulfs a youthful heart escaping the prison of a strict childhood for the first time: “But when you go you take the sun and all my flowers die / So I wait by the window and write some shit and hope that you reply.” Her mind is running a mile a minute, buoyed by gentle strums and the warm production of Alex G and his bandmate Sam Acchione.

I tried to show you /
That I was stronger

For an artist steeped in melancholy, Tomberlin has proven that there’s something more interesting within the space between joy and sadness. They coexist naturally in everything, transient sorrow going hand-in-hand with radiant gladness. Her investigations of love welcome the full spectrum of emotion and embrace personal experience, rather than leaning into the “sad girl indie” mantle that critics have hung around her head.

“For an artist steeped in melancholy, Tomberlin has proven that there’s something more interesting within the space between joy and sadness.”

A gleam of wonder twinkles in her eyes as she steps into the light of self-acceptance, coming to terms with her youth and her sexuality at the same time. Projections can serve, at its best, as a beacon of hope for queer kids trapped in oppressively religious homes, offering a look into a complicated, uncertain yet beautiful future.

Wes Muilenburg (they/he) is a writer and podcaster living in Minneapolis, MN. They co-founded, edit, and write for Ear Coffee, a blog focused on the Minnesota DIY scene, and contribute reviews to Post Trash. They play saxophone in NATL PARK SRVC and help operate Side City Recordings, a collective dedicated to helping Twin Cities artists record and distribute their music. Don’t follow them on Twitter @purityolympics.