Review Summary: In your shoes
Music is about feeling things. Yes, yes, this is obvious, I know. But it’s easy to forget, especially when one consumes such a copious amount of it that everything sort of melds together. Sometimes it takes an album so emotionally straightforward that you have to stop and feel it. Someone New
is one of those albums. Stripped down to its basest elements, perhaps there’s nothing marvelous about Helena Deland’s debut full-length. Its basic throughline—exploring the danger in our relationships—is only compelling because of her ability to combine her skills to make you feel exactly how she wants you to. Her frank lyrics are not exceptional, her music is playful but hardly groundbreaking, and her delivery shares clear lineage with the whispered worryings of fellow indie-folk-pop-singer-songwriter contemporaries Common Holly and Haley Heynderickx. Each of these has its charms, but none bear the full weight of the record. On “Dog,” Deland doesn’t aim for poetry by relentlessly crooning “I hate to be your dog” in the final stretch, but in the way her exhausted delivery weaves between the lurking bass and clattering percussion. There’s rarely a deeper meaning to uncover, just the effortless way she plants the listener in her shoes by bringing each element of her songs to work in tandem. She’s an incredible director.
As with others in her genre, Deland uses her own bag of tricks to distance herself from the bunch. Dream-pop filters add vibrance to her shining choruses, and a bassy electronic undercurrent runs through the more menacing sections. Genre and instrumentation bend to whatever mood Deland has set her sights on—such contrasts only add to each song’s unique signature, and spark exciting clashes with its neighbors. As disarming pop cut “Comfort, Edge” brushes against the threatening instrumental “The Walk Home,” the album begs for words like “eclectic” and “varied” to be overused. Despite all the whirrs and whizzes, each shift in sound feels warranted and unfussy, grounded in emotion while emphasizing the song’s identity with enthusiasm.
While this emphasis on individual songs is engaging from track-to-track, it’s clear that the album lacks a clear structure. Its peaks and valleys stretch out; clattering jams run uncomfortably close together, as do the slow tracks on a snooze of a final run. Each of them is compelling on its own, but better attention to sequencing could have made that contrast pop all the more. While each song chomps on its own slice of troubled-relationships pie, a clear arc for her journey just isn’t present.
But that isn’t the point. An album as effortlessly effusive as this would feel burdened with an overcomplicated narrative or mounds of subtext. The exact reason why Someone New
is so captivating is because of how direct it is. Like a director’s reel, Deland shines her sound through different genres and moods, inviting the audience to relate and relive what they see fit from her insular world. Despite its flaws, this album is a gripping calling card for Helena Deland and her ability to show what it feels like to stand in her shoes.