On Oct. 13, 2023, Helena Deland released her sophomore album — “Goodnight Summerland.” Saturated with grief, the album is full of melancholic honesty. Written in the aftermath of the death of Deland’s mother, many songs on “Goodnight Summerland” explore the turmoil of a lost relationship and the world’s ensuing indifference. The juxtaposition of such mournful tracks with lighter songs like “Spring Bug” and “Bright Green Vibrant Gray” remind us of love’s temporary nature and encourage us not to take it for granted. Deland’s earnest confessions and cautions, layered over minimal production, create a fierce sense of intimacy with the listener. Her self-assured voice compels you to really listen to the lyrics without getting lost in the ambient composition. However, the Canadian singer-songwriter remains true to the indie-folk sound — full of hypnotizing melodies and chord progression — found on her debut album, “Someone New.”
Deland cautions us against inaction in “Saying Something,” one of the first tracks. Lyrics directly reference her late mother, “what I could have said / Maria / I might never know what I’d tell you.” The burden of leaving something unsaid plagues Deland throughout the song. Minimal acoustic guitar and vocal layering create a dream-like aura as the lyrics “Knowing what to say isn’t easy” and later, “But believe me / Saying anything might be crucial,” urge someone to take action.
The fourth track, “Bright Green Vibrant Gray,” is a love letter to the natural world. Deland is captivated by the vastness of Earth in comparison to the minuteness of human experience. This sentiment is expressed through the lyrics, “Rocks you keep in your car door / Have traveled through far more / than your life.” It’s easy to imagine her gazing at a pastoral scene while writing this song. “The view in the morning rain,” she sings, “welcome us like no painting.”
Later in the album, “The Animals” frames a story of Deland and her love traveling through a scene reminiscent of “Bright Green Vibrant Gray.” The indifference of the natural world is apparent during their journey. Surrounded by animals, she describes how “They didn’t hiss us away / No, to us, my love / They had nothing to say.” Deland requests genuine connection from her love in the final verse, “Put your life on the easel / there right next to mine,” just to reverse her desire with the final words, “Nights like these I can’t quite tell / A fear from a wish.”
I was lucky enough to hear Deland perform these songs live when my friend, Zeina, and I bought tickets to her tour in Montréal last November. We arrived before the ticket booth opened, expecting a full house, and waited in freezing conditions just to be the first few inside the venue. By the time Deland took the stage, the atmosphere inside of La Tulipe, a cozy concert hall just north of Montréal, was reminiscent of a high-school reunion. Deland, a Montréal native, acknowledged her friends and family in the crowd and primarily spoke in French throughout the night, something she mentioned was comforting to her as she had just finished her U.S. leg of the tour. It was clear that Deland loved Montréal and that Montréal loved her back. Even as a tourist in the city, the intimate nature of Deland’s music allowed me to connect to the crowd and feel included in this quasi-reunion.
The track progression acted as an emotional rollercoaster — building you up only to tear you down. While seeing Deland perform live was incredible, “Goodnight Summerland” demands intimacy from the listener. Just like you wouldn’t yell private information to a friend across a crowded room, comprehending the album in the way it was intended to requires a sense of seclusion. Overall, “Goodnight Summerland” is beautifully devastating and one of my favorite albums that was released in 2023.