Calm, quiet and contemplative, the Californian’s seventh album is consistently excellent
Alela Diane‘s Looking Glass pretty much picks up from where her sixth album, the acclaimed Cusp, left off. The themes of Cusp made it an intensely personal record, inspired as it was by Diane’s brush with death while giving birth to her second daughter.
That event is referenced again in a track on Looking Glass, entitled Camellia. The opening piano chords are reminiscent of Lana Del Rey‘s Video Games, and it casts that same air of dreamy sadness over the listener. The lyrics are extraordinarily vivid – “felt the colour drain from me like a river, felt a stillness, but I wasn’t ready yet” and the emotional impact is similar to Martha Wainwright‘s tribute to her late mother, Proserpina.
The fact that Camellia sits right in the middle of Looking Glass shows how high Alela Diane’s confidence levels must be. Most people would leave such a devastating song as a sign off, but pretty much every song on Looking Glass packs a similar punch.
Looking Glass marks the first time that Diane has worked with Tucker Martine, the in-demand producer whose collaborator list reads like an A-Z of modern Americana (such as Sufjan Stevens, Laura Veirs and Roseanne Cash). He fits Diane’s sound like a glove, and songs like Howling Wind, All The Light and the opening Palmona almost glow with a rare warmth.
There are nods to some of Diane’s collaborators, especially on the aforementioned Paloma – Diane’s vocal phrasing is reminiscent of First Aid Kit at times, and the beautifully laid-back atmospherics remind one of Fleet Foxes. Yet Diane’s longevity means that her own personality imbues each song – the comparisons to Joanna Newsom that she received at the start of her career are no longer valid.
The beautiful string section of slow waltz Of Love is an early highlight, and even manages to get away with Diane slipping into spoken word at one point. Howling Wind is intended as a response to the political and global chaos of the last few years, and there’s something oddly calming about Diane’s vocals on this track – as if just listening to the song will convince you that everything will be okay, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
That’s the overall tone to the record – calm, quiet and quite downbeat. When We Believed nods to bluegrass at times, but it’s a very contemplative album. Lyrically, it’s not as explicitly personal as Cusp (apart from Camellia), and there are allusions to nature on tracks like Dream A River Despite the slow tempo, the album becomes a beautifully uplifting whole – almost a balm for a weary soul at times.
The roots/Americana market has been a pretty crowded one at times in recent years, which means that Alela Diane has often sailed under the radar, despite a stream of consistently excellent albums. Looking Glass could well be that album to raise her to another level and introduce her to a wider audience.