Following a series of good, if not quite great LPs, EPs, and singles, Alela Diane has released the best album of her career in 2013, the wonderful About Farewell. With her new album, Diane has greatly improved her ability to write about familial and relationship tension in a manner that’s simultaneously unique to her and comfortingly familiar to us.
From the beginning of opening track Colorado Blue, we’re introduced to beautiful guitar work and Diane’s heartfelt, deep vocal performance, something more stripped down than her earlier output. Its aching honesty and immaculate balance prevents About Farewell from being just another break-up record, as Diane presents something to us lyrically raw but unafraid to sport obviously produced yet sentimentally appropriate musical flourishes, from strings to harmonizing female choruses, when the time comes.
About Farewell really takes off with its title track, which is even rawer than the opener; when Diane wails, “I heard somebody say / That the brightest lights / Cast the biggest shadows / So honey, I’ve got to let you go,” a simple, but devastating admission and truth, the listener is not protected by rustic instrumentation the way he or she might have been on Diane’s earlier albums. Instead, the listener is forced to face the truth, Diane’s truth, upfront.
At other times, Diane is quicker to become pessimistic and fatalistic, as on the album’s shortest track, the two minute lament of I Thought I Knew, whose strings are aesthetically similar to another goodbye song: The Beatles’ She’s Leaving Home. Unlike that lush track, however, I Thought I Knew is to-the-point in its fatalism, deciding not to wallow in sentimentalism and instead talk about “the end” from the start. On the other hand, The Way We Fall, the album’s longest track, works because its building instrumentation mirrors the feelings Diane expresses over the course of the song, from seeing someone for the last time without knowing it and the regret that accompanies it to anger, and from anger to sadness as the song climaxes and falls to quiet.
About Farewell is, as its title suggests, concerned with saying goodbye, but it also effectively delves into the nadirs of abusive relationships as they’re occurring, whether that’s a relationship between two people or with oneself. On Nothing I Can Do, Diane coos, “Honey, there’s nothing I can do to save you from yourself” before labeling a man “a hound without a collar”. The “hound” comparison is one of a few wild animal references on About Farewell, suggestive of Diane’s unapologetic view of human nature. Before The Leaving, on the contrary, is more subtle, telling the tale of two people slowly growing apart instead of explicitly knowing that their relationship is going badly. In general, however, both Nothing I Can Do and Before The Leaving show that Diane is equally apt at showing the road to the end as she is at soundtracking the end itself.
Finally, while many may think that Hazel Street is About Farewell’s most devastatingly negative song because Diane is able to initially predict that a relationship will go awry, the song that leaves the most lasting impact is the album’s closer, Rose & Thorn, because Diane finally admits, in hindsight, that she’s messed things up as much as her ex-lover(s) have. Rose & Thorn’s impact is twofold: it’s first as hard to swallow as accepting relationship blame yourself, but later leaves you better off than you were before, perspective and maturity in tow. Overall, Diane, now 30, has embarked on a new decade in her life and a new chapter in her musical career with About Farewell. Here’s hoping she can continue to make powerful albums while finding happiness and a stronger sense of self.