Published Oct 14, 2020Like a parcel of breakup roses compressed into a confetti cannon, Helena Deland's debut album is explosive, belaboured and totally intoxicating.
After years of feather-flicking her audience with EPs and singles, the Montreal singer-songwriter has finally delivered the goods, with 13 painstakingly arranged songs of elegiac guitar pop, woven together like your comfiest quilt.
Emotionally, Someone New is a saturnine affair; it's Nick Drake with synthesizers, or Natalie Prass with a pout, and while not every song on the album oozes Elliott Smith as much as the stripped-down album closer, "Fill the Rooms," Deland has picked up his torch of musical melancholy and sprinted away with it very far indeed — with a caravan of Polaris-truck-chasing PR men in her rose-petalled tow.
Partially produced by close friend Valentin Ignat, as well Gabe Wax (The War on Drugs, Adrianne Lenker) and Jake Portrait (Unknown Mortal Orchestra's bassist, and past studio contributor for Porches, Alex G, Whitney, DIIV, et al.), Deland makes the most of the indie pop A-team at her disposal: her smoke-sculpted vocals are the eye of the tempest, with textural guitar licks and synths and ad libs and overdubs and occasional strings and judicious drum tracks all working in total subordination to her audacious songwriting vision.
Suavely juking the Spotify-friendly, Mazzy Star-aspiring waif rock dogpile of her contemporaries, Deland's lyrical style is instead firmly planted in the hardscrabble school of Liz Phair. Album stand-out "Lylz," a maudlin celebration of female friendship, contains hints of it in wry one-liners ("I've got my driver's license / And you will need to practice") and bombastic sentimentality ("And if one of us dies / The other will make sure / Her life's work goes down in history"). In "Dog," her vulnerability is evoked in visceral images ("I hate to be your dog / But I got everything to gain from your hand on my head / Like I'm about to be dragged"), but that vulnerability is then delightfully subverted when a tongue-in-cheek Deland goes full husky in the chorus, howling out "Awoooo."
Dog 1, boys 0.
Lest one get the wrong impression, Deland has not entirely foregone the pop-friendly filigrees which dazzled us in all her prior singles — ones which seem like rightfully set-aside A/B tests of a voice yearning for its perfect vessel. Deland has clearly found that in Someone New; so when she does put her chops on display, especially on a song like "Mid-Practice," the emotional release of the funeral pyre performance is made ever-more-magnificent for the songs that precede it, for the brooding milieu Deland has wrought and lured her listeners inside.
Someone New is an exploration of heartache, lust, dissatisfaction and resignation to the perennial (and tedious) shittiness of men in her orbit — but it's also about how those feelings of weariness and romantic ambivalence can so quickly knot up with ones of jealousy and longing. There is, of course, no resolution in sight by album's end. But it's in these in-between-spaces where Deland thrives. It's a gestational document, thrilling to witness.
After 13 rounds of it, Deland bows out with a pledge: "I will fill the room with music".
When she's done, we'll be screaming "come back". (Chivi Chivi)