Helena Deland has a knack for crafting intensely introspective music. On her debut full-length, 2020’s Someone New, Deland documented losing herself in a new relationship and the anxiety that often accompanies new love with an intense emotional acuity, over an intricate palette of reverb-drenched guitars and electronic distortion.The effect was so dense and intimate, it was at times difficult to parse, like standing too close to an immensely detailed painting. On Goodnight Summerland, Deland takes a step back, and turns her gaze outwards — and her songwriting has never been sharper or more self-assured.
Goodnight Summerland is, at its core, a record about grief. Written in the aftermath of the death of Deland’s mother, many of these songs wrestle with the ineffability of losing a loved one — an experience Deland has described as transformative, a “pure encounter with mystery.” In a recent interview, Deland recounted C.S Lewis likening grief to “a sky, spread over everything,” and indeed, even in its lighter moments, a deep sense of loss permeates Summerland. Even the charming, shambling “Spring Bug” has a twinge of pain in its refrain of “stay, just a little longer,” even if it is ostensibly addressed to an insect.
While Deland’s lyrics have previously tended towards the philosophical or cryptic, many of the most affecting moments on Summerland deal in the simple, domestic realities of grief. Throughout Summerland’s 11 tracks, Deland covers the full spectrum of grief — bargaining, regret, stilted conversations, unspoken words, the sharp pain of seeing calendar pages filled with plans that will now never materialize.
On the deceptively pretty “Saying Something,” Deland describes the social awkwardness that often accompanies grief, as a friend struggles to find the right words: “I know you are trying to be a friend/ I hear you/ Knowing what to say isn’t easy.” On the meditative “Swimmer,” Deland desperately wishes to extend her time with a loved one, praying, “If I could make this last/ Take more of this moment/ Trade in some of my past.” On “Roadflower,” she intones words anyone who has lost a parental figure will desperately wish they could hear again: “You’ll age beautifully,” “You’ve been so good to me, so sweet.”
While the production on Someone New often paired Deland’s songs with washes of ambient sound and electronic trimmings, Summerland finds Deland going full folk. Most of the arrangements here are sparse, with Deland’s sweet, high croon accompanied by acoustic strums or tasteful woodwind. This restraint is admirable — it’s easy to imagine the stately, shifting melodies of “Bright Green Vibrant Gray” bolstered with something dramatic and orchestral, but Deland keeps it light, placing the spotlight firmly on her words.
Deland has always been a wonderful songwriter, and this pared-back approach allows the strength of her writing to shine through. While the surface prettiness of Deland’s music means that she’s a fine candidate for casual listening, more active listeners will be richly rewarded. Having grown up in francophone Montréal, Deland is bilingual, and her lyrics often involve subtly surprising use of language — “Saying Something,” for example, features a novel take on the old adage “only time will tell”: “Time acquired language/ It translated quiet things, after the fact.” Elsewhere, there are equally surprising sonic elements — “Night Soft As Silk” has a chugging guitar line that seems borrowed from a more conventional indie pop number, rendered strange and unfamiliar under layers of distortion. The song itself recounts a boozy, cathartic evening with a friend, and the guitars act as word painting, summoning up the feeling of when an evening goes slightly sideways after one too many glasses.
Humans have long turned to nature for comfort and perspective during difficult times, and Summerland is no different. The title comes from Deland’s birthplace, a small lakeside town in British Columbia. Deland had never thought to look up her birthplace until her mother’s death led her to question her own beginnings. She was moved to discover that her hometown is idyllic, “a hilly verdant landscape with a bright blue river.”
Throughout Summerland, Deland tends to couch her more painful observations on grief in pretty pastoral imagery, almost as a form of self-soothing. Deland may be grieving, but at least she’s doing it somewhere beautiful — the world of Summerland is filled with glowing waves, coloured rocks, endless rivers and streams. The natural world is both a source of comfort, and entirely oblivious to Deland’s suffering; on “The Animals,” Deland recounts a lover’s tiff on the top of a mountain, observed by a coterie of unperturbed animals (she also rhymes “easel” with “weasel,” a rare moment of lyrical contrivance).
On “Swimmer,” Deland transposes her personal grief onto the climate crisis, an intermingling of the macro and the micro which will bring to mind the Weather Station’s brilliant meditation on climate anxiety, Ignorance. “The warmer waters get, the more the oceans expand/ If I could turn back time/ I would, and I’d be good to you,” Deland murmurs, leaving the listener unsure whether Deland is grieving for her mother, or for the planet — perhaps for both.
This may sound like heavy stuff, but it’s to Deland’s credit that Summerland is an easy listen, a record that you can luxuriate in while letting it break your heart. Summerland feels warm, comforting and decadent, the audio equivalent of sinking into a hot bath. In Summerland, grief is a transformative force, a source of artistic inspiration and beauty, as well as elemental pain; as Deland notes, “Daring to write something difficult is a beautiful thing.” Deland has a meditative approach to grief: she tends to it, pays it quiet attention, noting her emotions down before allowing them to wash over her. It’s a strategy we could all do well to adopt. Summerland is a record as enjoyable as it is edifying.
Goodnight Summerland is out 10/13 on Chivi Chivi.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Bad Bunny’s Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va A Pasar Mañana
• Margo Price’s Strays II
• Troye Sivan’s Something To Give Each Other
• Offset’s Set It Off
• Jamila Woods’ Water Made Us
• CMAT’s Crazymad, For Me
• The Menzingers’ Some Of It Was True
• Squirrel Flower’s Tomorrow’s Fire
• L’Rain’s I Killed Your Dog
• ††† (Crosses)’ Goodnight, God Bless, I Love U, Delete
• Metric’s Formentera II
• Westside Gunn’s AND THEN YOU PRAY FOR ME
• The Drums’ Jonny
• Spencer Krug’s I Just Drew This Knife
• Faith Healer’s The Hand That Fits The Glove
• Johnny Jewel’s Holly soundtrack
• Onyon’s Last Days On Earth
• The Abe Vigoda offshoot Cupid & Psyche’s Romantic Music
• The Dismemberment Plan offshoot Milliseconds’ So This Is How It Happens
• Tomorrow X Together’s The Name Chapter: Freefall
• Upchuck’s Ty Segall-produced Bite The Hand That Feeds
• Jenn Champion’s The Last Night Of Sadness
• Institute’s Ragdoll Dance
• The Streets’ The Darker The Shadow, The Brighter The Light
• Maple Glider’s I Get Into Trouble
• Paul Wall & Termanology’s Start, Finish, Repeat
• Allah-Las’ Zuma 85
• Golden Apples’ Bananasugarfire
• Goat’s Medicine
• Laura Misch’s Sample The Sky
• Gotts Street Park – On The Inside
• Sic Alps/Peacers guy Mike Donovan’s Meets The Mighty Flashlight
• Beartooth’s The Surface
• Blue Ocean’s Fertile State
• Tex Crick’s Sweet Dreamin’
• John Dwyer, Tom Dolas, Kyp Malone, Andres Renteria, Heather Lockie, Brad Caulins, Ciriza, & Archis Carey’s RITUAL/HABIT/CEREMONY
• Melanie De Biasio’s Il Viaggio
• A Beacon School’s yoyo
• Popular Music’s Minor Works
• Hooveriii’s Pointe
• Sarah Morrison’s Attachment Figure
• Krieg’s Ruiner
• A Mourning Star’s A Reminder Of The Wound Unhealed
• Venera’s Venera
• Free Throw’s Lessons That We Swear To Keep
• Roger Eno’s The skies, they shift like chords…
• Manzanera Mackay’s AM PM
• Justin Walter’s Destroyer
• Mali Velasquez’s I’m Green
• Private Mind’s The Truth You See
• Wimps’ City Lights
• Black Mekon’s NEAT!
• Money’s Money
• Johnny Mathis’ Christmas Time is Here
• Gavin DeGraw’s A Classic Christmas
• Chvrches’ The Bones Of What You Believe (10 Year Anniversary Special Edition
• The Cranberries’ To The Faithful Departed (Deluxe Reissue)
• Meat Joy’s Meat Joy (Reissue)
• Whitesnake’s The Purple Album: Special Gold Edition
• Ringo Starr’s Rewind Forward EP
• Pinkshift’s suraksha EP
• The Wild Pink side project Lilts’ Waiting Around EP
• Geese’s 4D Country EP
• Cafuné’s Love Songs For The End EP
• Cybotron’s Maintain The Golden Ratio EP
• FRENSHIP’s Base Camp EP
• Golpe’s Assuefazione Quotidiana EP