In the artwork for Helena Deland’s debut album ‘Someone New’, a Vermeer-esque portrait painted by Xavier Beldor, the viewer is looking at Deland, who in turn is looking away, clearly aware of being watched, but occupied by other thoughts. It’s the perfect image for a record which finds its theme in the gaze. What it means to see yourself through the eyes of others, and what happens when they stop looking. “I realised that I associated primarily with what others projected onto me,” Deland shared in a press release, “and acted in ways to avoid disappointing this projection or imagined expectation. The quest to please and conform distracted me from who I already was.”
The Canadian singer, whose four prior EPs, 'Altogether Unaccompanied Volumes I, II, III, & IV' earned her a critical acclaim and support slots with Weyes Blood, Connan Mockasin and Iggy Pop, has a sugary, delicate voice, and a tendency to stretch it until it falters, or breathlessly whisper, lending a rawness to ‘Someone New’ which mirrors the vulnerability of the subject matter. On some tracks, (‘Smoking At The Gas Station’, ‘Fruit Pit’) this is bolstered by heavily textured soundscapes, or orchestral flourishes, in others, such as the heart wrenching ‘Clown Neutral’, sparse arrangements lay her vocals bare.
Given Deland’s aptitude for writing great pop singles - evidenced by 2018’s ‘Claudion’ and ‘Body Language’, some fans may be disappointed by the more subdued nature of ‘Someone New’. Yet her ability to combine woozy guitars with killer synths and endlessly catchy melodies hasn’t disappeared, only softened and matured, as the title track, the brilliant ‘Pale’, and ‘Dog’ prove.
‘Someone New’ was written by Deland alone in her bedroom in Montreal, before global events turned isolation into a necessity. Nevertheless, it feels strikingly relevant for a time when many of us are re-evaluating our relationships with ourselves and others, forced to spend so much time in our own company. “I need to get out of the house today/ to try my face out on strangers” she sings on ‘Smoking At The Gas Station’, and elsewhere, on ‘Pale’: “Spending this much time in my naked body’s / Not making it familiar to me.”
Ultimately though, the album sees Deland reaching some degree of self-acceptance “the process helped me better recognise what defines me both outwardly and inwardly," she says. "It made me somewhat new to myself.”
Words: Jess Wrigglesworth
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