“If I could have every thought / As though for the first time / I’d never get sick of / The patterns of my mind / But I am stuck / I am stuck.” So begins Someone New, Helena Deland’s recently released album.
The Canadian singer-songwriter’s debut release is tailored to our time, full of internal collapse, desperation and depression. Although these musings make up the centerpiece of the album, they are cobbled together amid a backdrop of surreally familiar memories — parties and lovers and cities churning at night — that all serve as reminders of a time not-so-far gone yet one that seems unreachable from where we stand now.
The album spins out over a slow, unwinding beat that at times feels like rain chimes, sirens or the muffled sounds of an instrument very far away. Through this, Deland paints a world of sonic isolation that leaves little room for exploration beyond relentless and tiresome self-examination — a feeling many, I’m sure, can empathize with. It is dependence interspersed with bursts of joy that fall into darkness.
Furthermore, her low tones and intimate pleading with the audience (“Watch me do my makeup and hair,” “If things go my way / I’ll stay in this room”) echo the circumscribed life that all of us have been living over the past few months.
In the first two tracks, she directly places herself in the intimacy of her own bedroom, telling us to watch her routine while she beleaguers herself with the monotony of her internal spinnings and mental rovings. Here you get spatial as well as mental isolation and a sense of exhaustion, manufactured relationships and the subtle unpinning of life as it unfolds.
As the album goes on, Deland begins whispering to her audience, running through a tale of self-preservation from the essence of an old lover who leaves her insecure and self-conscious. The listener follows Deland on a walk home (the middle instrumental piece of the album is literally titled “The Walk Home”) with a partner that reeks of violence, which then takes us to a scene entitled “Smoking at the Gas Station,” a song filled with social anxiety and an overly attuned account of the way the world around the narrator reacts to her.
While her spatial isolation slowly breaks, her internal disassociation remains. She tries to reach out to a friend or a sister or a girlfriend — intimate connections that could be lost at any time — then reaches out to others again and again, only to end up in solitude. She’s moving around, traveling in space but always caught in a restless, tense relationship with herself and the people around her.
Yet you still get the sense that she’s moving forward. It’s an awkward self-discovery stunted by an ill-nurturing environment but stuttering to life anyways. Again, the past few months and the disjointed adjustments many of us have had to make come to mind, adjustments that have at once forced us to take a step backward and pushed us out into an uncertain, vulnerable space.
Of course, I have no doubt that much of the work that appears in Someone New was written prior to COVID-19 and before the months of isolation in which many of us, increasingly relying on inadequate support systems, have begun confronting a fractured society and ultimately a fractured world.
There is no telling how this album would have played out had it been released months ago. In a speeding world, I’m not sure I would have taken the time to listen to it all the way through and to parse patiently through the darker undertones that differentiate Deland’s work from the similarly melancholy works of Mitski, Lucy Dacus or Phoebe Bridgers.
However, the songs in Someone New bleed into one another, providing a slow backdrop for the everyday and I found myself listening to it on loop. I had to make the time in the quiet monotony of recent life to revisit Someone New and to carefully examine the lyrics and the lonesome, occasionally sinister instrumentals.
This is definitely an album that fits into my life and one that you have to actively engage with, even if that engagement is just walking around at night, tuned in to what is in your ears and experiencing a moment of decisiveness, a moment of being seen through this album that fits to perfectly into the general malaise of 2020.
As Deland so deftly puts it in the last lyric of her album, when there is nothing else to do, “Fill the rooms with music.”