’Toban Turntable

Helena Deland — Goodnight Summerland

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4/5 Stars

Goodnight Summerland, the second album from Montreal artist Helena Deland is about loss, but it is not a goodbye — only a goodnight. It is a farewell with the knowledge that nature is cyclical, the sun will fall and rise again, the seasons will change back around and the moon will be full again.

Named for the singer-songwriter’s birthplace in the Okanagan region of British Columbia, the album was recorded after the death of Deland’s mother, causing her to both confront the mysteries of death ahead and the remnants of her past. 

Deland is largely focused here on memory and place, and often refers to vague moments with an unspecified “we” or “you,” seemingly talking to an intimate lover or a loved one. 

Natural settings colour these impressionistic recollections, like the audible beach setting of “Swimmer” or the aptly titled “The Animals,” which sets a moment of vulnerability against the backdrop of a nighttime walk through the woods, woodland creatures in the trees.

This combination of distinct physical geography and narrative cloudiness is quite emotionally effective, provoking memories from one’s own life to come flooding in to fill the gaps in the song’s dialogue.

Though her short but varied career has led Deland through collaborations with rapper JPEGMAFIA, ambient artist Claire Rousay and experimental pop artist and fellow Montrealer Ouri, Goodnight Summerland sees Deland largely in straightforward singer-songwriter mode.

Recorded with noted Big Thief collaborator and solo artist Sam Evian in the Catskill Mountains of New York, the album has a distinctly naturalistic feeling to it. The recordings are relatively slapdash, leaving in all the imperfect textures of the largely acoustic instrumentation, but the arrangements are delicately minimal and precise, overflowing with ambience and warmth.

Deland’s voice appears in two distinct modes. In her lower register, Deland has a solemn dignity and demanding precision, not unlike Montreal legend Leonard Cohen. In her high register, Deland is flitty and angelic, gliding above the richly textured and ethereal instrumentals.

Musically, the album maintains a constant cozy atmosphere. Early tracks like “Spring Bug” and “Bright Green Vibrant Gray” have a folky jaunt to them, while later tracks like the haunting “Who I Sound Like” or the closing “Strawberry Moon” descend into darkness.

Goodnight Summerland is a triumph of atmosphere and closely observed writing, and a perfect album for the winter — warmly comforting and intimate.

Goodnight Summerland is available on major streaming services.