Helena Deland popped up on a few end of year lists with her 2020 album Someone New. Being a music writer, I was doing my due diligence and making my way through all these lists, marking down things that stood out to me to return to later. I was in the middle of a period of initial excitement about Someone New when a press release landed in the Picky Bs inbox. Deland, my new discovery, had a collaboration on the way. What had so struck me about Someone New was its simplicity, its ability to use minimal instrumentation and a breathy singing tone to build a serene and peaceful atmosphere that I could lose myself in for three quarters of an hour. I wouldn’t exactly call Someone New a folk album, but it certainly has that aesthetic. It is as calm as music comes.
So I was expecting much of the same from Hildegard – Deland’s collaboration with multi-instrumentalist and producer Ouri. But I had never heard of Ouri before. I knew nothing of her reputation in the world of electronic music. It didn’t take long, though, to realise that this album was very different to what I had been discovering from Deland.
In the press release, we get an explanation for the oddly named tracks within Hildegard’s debut. They go from ‘Jour 1’ to ‘Jour 8’, and each is named after one of the days that the duo spent together recording the project. By the end of ‘Jour 1’ we are in the world of a screeching dance floor, sirens blasting, basslines pulsing – you can almost imagine the sweat pouring off the faces of the pilled-up people in the party that this song brings to a crashing close. But while this song quickly marks Hildegard as a departure from Deland’s usual fare, ‘Jour 2’ shows how her experimental folk stylings have also had an influence on the LP as a whole. ‘Jour 3’ then seems like a perfect meld of the two artists, a synthetic and repetitive tone under a sweet and gasping vocal all leading to a moment of absolute release at the end.
So three songs in and this is nothing if not intriguing. It will probably be challenging to fans of either act at first, given that it doesn’t immediately resemble what they have made their names by doing. But what we have here is a collection of songs that seem to match the era in which they were made. They seem, on songs like the hypnotic ‘Jour 7’ to be hinting that the dance floor is out there somewhere but unavailable to us, and offering us something that can make us think of a night out without being able to go on one. You could sit with this album and get a feeling of escape, right there in your living room.
It will be interesting to see what reception this album gets on release. It is a strange set of songs, swirling and repeating, pulling you in and then keeping you at arm’s length, building you up to a scream and then lulling you down to a sleep. It took me a while to make a decision on where I stood with this one, but I can say for sure that it is fascinating and totally worth your time. Save it for when the sun is going down and you can be alone with your headphones and a strong drink.