The video for Helena Deland’s “Someone New” depicts the singer/songwriter sitting perfectly still for a portrait. At first glance, the image seems like it could actually be a portrait—the stark, minimalist concept of a video in which the featured artist doesn’t actually move is one that tends to mess with your head. But before long she blinks, she moves just slightly, and right before us the image that once seemed static comes alive—not in a dramatic or overblown way, but in a manner that deepens our curiosity and piques our sense of wonder.
Deland’s music has a similar effect. Where her first couple of singles released in 2018 revealed an artist with a somewhat more conventional approach to indie pop, she’s since transformed into a songwriter with an ear toward richly immersive textural works. There’s too much happening to call it “ambient,” but there’s a hypnotic quality that makes time stand still within her songs on debut album Someone New. By the time they reach their conclusion, each of her songs has gone through a climactic journey, but it’s easy to simply get caught up in the gorgeous layers of atmosphere.
To dust off an old cliché, Someone New is a headphone record—or a late night, up alone, listening to vinyl record. Or whatever solitary, close-listening example you want to choose. There’s an intimacy about it that’s driven not by how stark it is, but rather the opposite—while often driven by simple melodies, these songs are rich and intricately layered pieces that veer toward psychedelia in places, shoegaze in others, and often find Deland’s voice surrounded by all-consuming sound. “Comfort, Edge” pulls the lo-fi to hi-fi trick in its intro, zooming into widescreen presentation as Deland declares, “You’ll never make a fool of me.” Static and rattling snare open “Truth Nugget,” building up an anxious beginning for what becomes an intoxicated haze. And even in a quieter track such as “Seven Hours,” eerie layers of synths creep into frame, like ghosts providing a backup chorus.
The opening title track might still be the album’s best moment, however, a gradually building four minutes of otherworldly art pop reminiscent of Moses Sumney or recent Radiohead, with a surprisingly nuanced take on ideas of time, aging, creativity and how those ideas are sold to us in problematic ways. “I’ll be covered head to toe in the faded flower patterns of memories,” she sings. “Of nights like these, of good times passed.” It’s a heavy weight that often gets placed on artists from very early on, but Deland’s first album sounds like the work of an artist following a uniquely compelling path—one likely to lead only somewhere interesting.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.