Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland titled her first full-length release Someone New, and I daresay this will be true for most listeners. Deland’s smaller projects had created a buzz in the indie world. She and her music have been the subject of admiration in publications such as Stereogum, Noisey, Fader, and even Jon Pareles in the New York Times. But Someone New serves as Deland’s introduction to a wider audience. These 13 tracks reveal her considerable creative talents.
Deland sings in a hushed voice as if she’s whispering secrets. She’s simultaneously confessional and mysterious. The lo-fi production uses synths and electronic sounds in a quiet manner with more conventional instruments. Her persona is that of a young woman experiencing the world, personal relationships, being alone, and just thinking about things like life and love. She’s guileless and insecure one minute, experienced, and patient the next. The songs explore her conscious and subconscious thoughts and behaviors and also recreate the states of mind for the listeners to embody and understand.
That can be ambitious and demanding. The cold silence of a cut like “Clown Neutral” requires a listener to respire slowly and quietly lest one miss the stillness. This works as a breathing exercise in the way a Buddhist mantra or Gestalt therapist would induce calm.
But Deland’s not always so serious. She compares herself to a good pet on “Dog” with an awareness that belies its anti-feminist message. Sometimes, as Iggy Pop famously noted, people just want to be your dog. Deland’s dog has more humane tendencies than her lover but that’s kind of the point. The song’s jaunty beat just reinforces that message.
Or she will poetically paint a portrait of a relationship, like on the clever “Truth Nugget”. She croons “Watch me do my makeup and hair / While you make up hypotheses out of thin air / I am another solid mystery when it comes to you / Michael, I’m the puzzle in the other room”—the atmosphere thick post-Romantic tension.
Deland refers to her home country on some tracks, but she seems to set her lyrics to more ephemeral places purposely. The synths and strings on songs like the instrumental “The Walk Home” evoke a dark, cloudy, and brooding landscape. Tracks such as “Smoking at the Gas Station” suggest a small-town environment where nothing ever seems to happen. Not locating the songs anywhere in particular functions to put them everywhere. Not grounding them gives them a diaphanous, floating appeal.
However, this lack of gravitas is also the album’s greatest flaw. These are wisps of songs. Even when Deland asks if she “can sink her teeth” into her love on “Mid Practice”, one feels she wouldn’t draw blood. Deland may be a serious person, but she distances herself from taking action on this album.
As she sings on the title song, Deland wants to feel like “Someone New”, not become someone new, better, or different than she is. She’s receptive if you want to kiss with her and your eyes closed and pretend she’s somebody else. Deland suggests the imagination can be more rewarding than reality.